BRATTLEBORO - For an insightful look into the lives of rural Vermonters who have resided in Vermont's hillsides for the past 60 years, award-winning author and photographer Peter Miller will give a lecture and slide show tonight of his new book, "A Lifetime of Vermont People," at Brooks Memorial Library beginning at 7 p.m.
A native of Weston, Miller witnessed what he calls the gentrification and homogenization of Vermont, a process that is slowly replacing a generation of self-employed, hardworking and unique people. He has spent most of his life capturing these people on camera and has twice compiled them into high quality books, preserving the history of - and honoring - the native Vermonter. His latest publication, "A Lifetime of Vermont People," highlights six decades of people Miller has photographed and their stories, mostly of people living along Route 100 spanning from Weston to Colbyville, people who have made their living their own way.
The black and white photographs portray proud and weathered faces comfortable in their own environment. Miller's stories that accompany the photographs tell their journey. From his childhood neighbors, retired farmers Will and Rowena Austin of Weston, to Rusty DeWees of Rusty the Logger fame from Elmore, these are the stories of an era fading fast.
Miller's journey as an author is a story in itself. He self-published his first book, "Vermont People" in the early ‘90s when he first saw the change in Vermont's culture and felt a need to preserve its history, featuring the old-time Vermont hillside farmer, the people that made Vermont work. But he faced multiple rejections from publishers. Back then self-publication was not as accepted as it is today and the road was rocky. He financed his production by re-mortgaging his house, and relentlessly sent out his own press releases, eventually catching the attention of local newspapers. In the end the book was a success and won multiple awards. He went on to publish "People of the Great Plains", "Vermont Woman Farmers", "The First Time I Saw Paris", and "Nothing Hardly Ever Happens in Colbyville, Vermont" with "Vermont Woman Farmers" and "People of the Great Plains" winning awards also.
"Rural culture has to be protected - the people who made Vermont," Miller said. So in 2012, doing what he does best, he decided to create another book for Vermont, to include artists and writers, entrepreneurs and even skiers such as Governor Howard Dean, along with a few favorites from his first book with more in-depth stories. Also included are historical summations from his first book. Again he had to be creative with the financing through presales, loans, and with a little help from kickstarters.com; Miller's latest vision is now in print and is filled with 60 profiles of Vermonters from the ‘50s to today.
Miller said it is very difficult to get high quality printing of black and white photography with American printers, finding their reproductions rather lackluster, and had to search as far as Italy for a printer that used a special process of reproduction that could meet his satisfaction. He also attributes what he humbly describes as a "good book at a good time" to the expertise of great designers and the advice of people much smarter than himself. The end result, "A Lifetime of Vermont People" is more than just a coffee table production. Striking in appearance, the deep brown hard cover book accented with simple gold lettering features Miller's photograph of a very serious-faced Scottish Highlander Breeder Carroll Shatney, donning a whimsical hat "Fun!" Inside the photographs captivate, the stories a good read.
He hopes to make enough money to return his investment and to create enough interest for a second printing, although he admits the appeal is to Vermonters mostly, and those who appreciate the old-time simplicity of Vermont life.
A self-described work-aholic and not one to rest very long on his laurels, Miller is toying with the idea of a book on Robert Frost or perhaps another photographic journal of his time in Paris in the future. In the meantime he will be traveling the state until next spring promoting his book with more lectures and book signings. For those that can't make it to tonight's lecture "A Lifetime of Vermont People" will continue to be on exhibit at Brooks Memorial Library at 224, Main St., Brattleboro, until Oct. 30.