Amy Miller, executive director of Atlanta Celebrates Photography—the annual October festival that takes Atlanta by storm with all things photographic, from portfolio reviews to ambitious public-art projects—doesn’t think she makes for such a fascinating subject. “I always try to keep my life a DFZ—a drama free zone,” says the youthful 40-year-old, “which I guess could equate to being boring if you’re being written about.” That said, the work Miller is doing at ACP, from convincing corporate funders to sponsor citywide shows to coordinating the installation of an ambitious sound and video public art piece by artists Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry in a massive water tower in Atlanta’s Fourth Ward, probably benefits from her quiet sense of diplomacy. Better to keep the focus on what Miller knows is the greater drama: establishing Atlanta as an international photographic hub—and using the month-long ACP festival to do it.
Miller believes in the medium of photography and in the vitality of her native city with equal zeal. Born in 1968 in Jonesboro, Georgia, and raised in Conyers (both small suburbs of Atlanta), Miller grew up a suburban kid who loved making art. It wasn’t until her second year in college at the University of Georgia, Athens, that she picked up a camera with any seriousness. She was immediately enthusiastic. She majored in photographic design, but upon graduation, economic realities and a couple years’ worth of career drift set in: she was girl Friday at a plastic surgeon’s office; she did wedding portraits; she even worked at Glamour Shots in the local mall, all the while building her portfolio.
In 1995, she moved to New York to attend the M.F.A. program at Pratt Institute and worked hard, not only at her own photographic creations (mixed-media projects on fabric and glass), but on promoting those of others, taking a job at the Alan Klotz Gallery in Manhattan and enhancing her resume with valuable gallery experience. By 1998 Miller was happy working in the photo world and with Klotz, but not, in her heart, with New York. “I missed the South,” she says. “So I went back and did a crazy amount of applying for jobs.” A year and a half later, one of the city’s top venues, the Fay Gold Gallery (to which she had applied no less than three times), tapped her as its new director. It was a plumb spot, and Miller stayed there until 2007, building relations with clients, organizing shows, streamlining the gallery’s communication systems. Serving on the board of ACP was also part of her purview at the gallery. Eventually, ACP needed a new director (when its first paid director, Anne Dennington, who grew the organization considerably from 2004 to 2007, moved on). A committee was formed to make a nationwide search—but it ultimately chose Miller, in its own backyard. “It’s funny, but while I was in New York, I started appreciating Atlanta more. It’s almost like I had to go away to come back.”
Now ACP reaches out to 130 venues in the city, including the High Museum of Art, with its stellar collection of photography, as well as private businesses and galleries, and it even organizes a do-it-yourself “push-pin” show in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, in which amateurs and professionals of any skill level can participate and hang their own pictures. You sense that Miller’s enthusiasms are evenhanded throughout, thrilling to the power of photography to bring people together. “It’s great to see who comes in with a photograph. The weekend security guard at Piedmont Park took a picture of a flower in the park and brought it in. Now who’d have thought of that?”