Today, January 6, 2011, is my 77th birthday. I was born in the Doctor’s Hospital in New York City at 1:45 AM — a Capricorn with Scorpio rising and the moon in Pluto. I don’t know what to say about astrology now that Pluto has been downgraded to a dwarf planet. I assume that means I too am slightly downgraded.
Like a condemned man with two weeks before the execution, my birthday concentrates the mind. I looked up some statistics in a sense of augury.
If I were Japanese, my average life span is 76.2 years but for a Yank, mine is 72.2 years. The stats say this old guy should be dead by now but, since I made it to age 65, I can expect to live to be 80.3, so I read in the tables. A little more research and I found a reprieve in a Social Security study. As I am now 77, I have been allocated 9.34 years so I will live to the middle of March, 2021—I will be extinguished in the 86th year of my life.
I’ve beat the odds, since by father died when he was 51 but then again, he drank himself to oblivion. However, I too have some problems. The electrical circuits in my heart are screwed up and I have to take rat poison every day to thin my blood. I have a pace maker so that old engine in my chest doesn’t sputter along at one beat for five seconds. And I have a stent that was put in the widow’s artery when it was 95% blocked. I’m lucky in these problems and in surviving close calls. I have a very good guardian angel.
Let’s talk about the economy of my golden years. I have social security that, after medical deductions, comes to $689 a month. That is my only pension. I own no stocks or bonds, I have no savings, no trust fund, no rich wife and my mother died when she was 82 with $200 in her bank account. She’s a good model to follow.
How do I live? Off my wits. I am a freelance photographer and writer. I have written seven books that can be viewed on my website www.petermillerimages.com. I have thousands of photographs that photo stock agencies have licensed in the past, but new business models and the destruction of the world economy by Wall Street and their banker friends have dropped that income over 60%. Book sales, through stores, have tumbled to a dribble and the chains have killed off many of the independent bookstores and now they are eating each other.
Assignments? The country is filled with very competent writers and photographers who have been let go by magazines and newspapers. The Congressional Record was looking for a foreign affairs editor and had over 400 applications from very qualified journalists in this field.
I started to sell fine art photographs, or wall art, as it is often called. Two years ago I sold $20,000 of photographs from the Peter Miller Photography Gallery in my Vermont home next to Ben & Jerry’s. This past year it was about $5,000.
And I have over 50 years of photographs I have taken: Paris street scenes and Margaux wine harvest from the 1950’s; 200 Kodachromes of the Word Trade Towers shot from every vantage point in New York during the 1980’s; the black and white photographs from the now classic coffee table book Vermont People, Vermont Farm Women, and People of the Great Plains. In the files are color and black and white scenes from the Atacama Desert in Peru to a sand storm in the Sahara and skiing the Haute Route.
How do I reinvent myself? I have created this year two new websites. On www.petermillerimages.com appear my books and my archives, which have to be scanned, keyworded and put on the web. My portfolio of photographs is on www.petermillerphotography.com. One portfolio mixes text and photographs of Dachau on its 40th year of liberation, a rainy day I spent there that will never be forgotten.
Portions of my book projects and my essays, observations and rants will be on the Peter Miller Vermont blog.
I have a young assistant working full time on this project (“Peter,” said Kyle, “You have three years left to live. We have to finish this work this year!”). And I will need someone to keyword and I too will be captioning, scanning and keywording. The website is my store, for selling books and photographs, for creating propaganda about myself and to make money. I hope.
To create this archive, I will borrow against my house and assets. Within two years I hope this work is finished and I can sell my house, auction my personal belongs, and leave Vermont that has some of the highest costs in taxes and living expenses in the country. I might just get in my Air Stream and, with one camera system and a laptop, travel the country.
And is that really my goal? No. At my death I want to leave a complete archive of what I have lived through, so that future generations can understand the culture of our times. My job, all my life, is to communicate through my camera and the written word. My standards were, and are, to be honest and direct.
This is why I am on this planet. I love my children dearly and I have loved women, but in truth, my first love is this intangible ability I have to record life— what I see in a face, what I distill in words from what I see, hear and read. I have minor talent, but I am proud that I used it.