Interview by Ken Li 

Emily is a Senior concentrating in Psychology (Social and Cognitive Neuroscience – the “pre-med” track). This fall she took Chris Killip’s Portrait Class and previously took Introduction, also with Chris Killip.

Ken Li: How did you first get interested in photography?

Emily Milam: I’ve been interested since high school. At the time, all I had a simple point-and-shoot and took lots of photos with it. When I got to Harvard, I realized that I could take a class and enrolled in Chris Killip’s introductory course last fall. It was my favorite class of the semester and I decided to continue photography this year.

KL: What camera did you use for this project? And how was it different from what you used before?

EM: I used a Yashica square format film camera which was first made in the 70s. Going from digital to film, especially an old film camera, was extremely frustrating. Ultimately, I grew to like it because using this camera allowed me to understand the inner workings of photography better. It took a while to get used to and all my initial photos were either over or underexposed. It was a struggle to make things work out but I thought it was a good learning experience.

KL: I love the images in your project. Do you have a name for it? What was your initial idea behind it?

EM: (Laughs) It’s a dorky name but I decided to call it “Shopping Cart Heroes.” I took the Portrait Photography class because during my Intro course, I was always too nervous and shy to take pictures of random people. In this class, I started off by taking pictures of friends but took the step forward to photograph strangers. The supermarket was one of the places I went to find them and I found that I really liked the pervasive color and all of the labels and advertising. I decided take all of my photos there because the results were so interesting.

KL: I notice that one of the main differences between your portraits and the street photography I do is that all of your subjects are aware of the camera and looking directly into it. Why did you decide to do this?

EM: One reason I chose to have them look at the camera was because I found it more comfortable to ask someone if I could photograph them instead of just taking their picture randomly. I liked the idea of straight-face portraits in a unique environment. I went to 5 or 6 different grocery stores and asked people I saw. Nearly all of them were very agreeable, though I was asked to leave a few stores.

KL: One of the images that struck me was the portrait of the young couple. What’s the story behind them?

EM: This was photographed in Broadway Market where I noticed that at 11:30 AM every day, all of the high school students from the nearby school would go to the market for lunch. I loved photographing them. I like this couple because they remind me of Adam and Eve. The girl actually posed for the photograph as if it were an official portrait with her boyfriend. I like their facial expressions and they fit in so well with the setting.

KL: On that note, how do you think your subjects in general fit into the setting? Do you think people are different when they are in the market?

EM: This environment is an odd place to take portraits. I’m glad that most people weren’t awkward when I photographed them. I like the contrast between the subject and the products in the store. Shopping at the grocery store is a traditionally female role but I loved seeing all different types of people and characters at the store. Some people held onto a sort of refined dignity to their shopping while others treated it like a bothersome chore. I also noticed the different demographics between stores. From the generic supermarket to the organic whole foods stores, there were big differences in shopper personalities.

KL: Last question. Where do you see photography in your future and how has your experience in the VES department changed that?

EM: I will definitely continue photography in the future, even if it’s just a personal hobby. I love taking my camera everywhere with me. Even though I am a senior, I am considering taking another VES course during my final semester. It’s a great outlet and showed me I can be creative, which I wasn’t sure about before.


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