Quintessential Malkovich: Sandro Miller’s project salutes iconic images

The 1999 fantasy film “Being John Malkovich,” finds characters entering a portal in John Malkovich’s brain. Photographer Sandro Miller’s popular creative project required the reverse: Malkovich climbed inside the minds of photography’s most compelling subjects, striking pitch-perfect poses that helped Miller recreate historic works.

The images Miller selected to pay tribute to in his series “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters” are those that have affected him over his 40-year career.  “You look at these shots and you’re honored that they’re out there for you to view,” says Miller of the originals. “They are so perfectly done and leave you wanting so much more.” He emphasizes that the series is not intended to parody, but to celebrate, the photographers of these iconic works.

© Sandro Miller

Replicating the images involved more than a year of research, with much focus on lighting. “We dissected these shots down to the moment that they could have happened.” About a month before the session, he assembled a crew and finalized each photo setup, replicating the lighting very closely with his studio lighting systems. 

Wardrobe was another priority, entrusted to stylist Leslie Pace, who either tracked down identical clothing or used a seamstress to reproduce pieces such as the dress in Diane Arbus’s “Identical Twins.”

The essential element in making each photograph credible was the genius Malkovich brought to the project, Miller notes. “He is fearless in experimenting. To ask a man to bluff a sensual pose like Marilyn Monroe [in Bert Stern’s “Marilyn in Pink Roses”] or the very difficult posing of Bette Davis [in Victor Skrebneski’s “Bette Davis”], you have to have somebody who’s very confident in himself and can work himself into these people. There is nobody like John.”

While Malkovich sat for a two-hour hair and makeup session for each photograph, he analyzed the original, which Miller taped to the makeup mirror, and imagined how the subject felt at the moment of capture. “I watched John become a boy, girl, man, woman, Marilyn, Picasso, Hitchcock, Bette Davis, Che Guevera,” Miller says. “He could get into their heads.”  

RELATED: How Sandro Miller leverages personal projects for paying jobs.

Amanda Arnold is associate editor of Professional Photographer.