Artist and activist Josh Miller creates wearable art, installation fashion

Queer Kentucky works to uplift the voices of LGBTQ+ Kentuckians, and part of that is shining a light on LGBTQ+ owned businesses and the amazing entrepreneurs behind them.

Josh Miller is an artist+athlete creating Wearable Photos through his queer-owned small business Josh Miller Ventures. He is the co-founder and CEO of IDEAS xLab, and a 2021 National Leadership Academy for the Public’s Health Fellow. Josh is a 2x TEDx speaker, and was selected for Louisville Business First’s Forty under 40 (2018) and Business Equality Magazine’s Forty LGBTQ+ Leaders under 40 (2020).

First of all, when did you begin your artistic journey, specifically photography

My love for photography really started during my sophomore year of high school when we learned how to develop black and white photographs in the dark room – I was immediately hooked. Visual storytelling is a passion of mine and hours were spent developing photos of my friends and siblings, places I saw, details from around the neighborhood. It was so personal, such a meditative process, and required ongoing experimentation. I love how intentional you have to be when framing a shot, how your mind starts to move in a space imaging how the camera can capture what you see based on the lines, the light, the interaction of elements within the environment. My photography has moved to being fully digital and become an active part of how I practice self-care, express myself as an artist, and explore the world.

What has this outlet offered you and how have you grown creatively and emotionally through your art?

Photography and the combination of photography and my ventures outdoors running, cycling, and hiking has helped me to see and connect to the world differently, and also to connect with others through the sharing of the images over the past decade. Vian Sora, an artist here in Louisville reflected on the photos saying, “His image posts – specifically since the beginning of pandemic – played a vital role in reminding us of our freedoms and humanity.” I also love portrait photography and taking photos of events like Pride, which I’ve done for The Advocate for a number of years, so using my art to help celebrate not only those events but the breadth of the LGBTQ+ community and the countless ways we can show up in the world.

You are clearly innovative and didn’t stick to “framed print photos,” and I’m curious what inspiration took you to Wearable Photos?

I’ve collaborated with designer Gunnar Deatherage over the past few years on custom outfits and it’s something we’d talked about as a possibility, but it wasn’t until the end of 2020 that I found companies to do the type of printing I wanted so I could prototype my Wearable Photos printed on chiffon. I’m also inspired by fabrics created by designers like Dries van Noten, that often remind me of abstract photos. The transparency and movement of chiffon brings them to life and lets you interact with them in a different way than if they were printed and hung on your wall. You can literally drape yourself in a photo and walk out of the door! What’s better than that?

It was my Wearable Photos idea that led to the 2021 Small Business Grant from Spoonflower that I got to create more fabric designs using my photos to sell in their online marketplace, so I’m excited for how this will grow and evolve in the future, and to make raw fabric featuring my photos available to designers.

How did you select photos through 10 years of art?

My Spring 2021 Wearable Photos Collection featured 6 photographs, five of which were taken during the pandemic, and all six were taken in Louisville and southern Indiana. The photo in the collection called “Shifting Opportunity” is a long exposure image taken of the Louisville skyline while standing across the river in Ashland Park. It was that image and “Oh the falls” from the same morning that I could immediately visualize as a chiffon print, so I continued experimenting with long exposure and the movement of the camera, and also selected two really crisp images with great lines and details like “Pearls of Dew” to include in the collection.

How did you come up with all of the ways to wear them and can you confirm how many ways that you can?

When I first got the samples of my 50” x 50” Wearable Photos I wore one every day for about three weeks, just trying out different ways to wear them. I pulled inspiration from Greek and Roman times – with the draping of togas and attire of the Gods memorialized in marble. I explored a variety of ways to wear them as scarves, a belt, a sarong, paired them with blazers, and wore multiple Wearable Photos together to create a flowing dress that looks great cinched with an obi belt. So far, I’ve found 15+ ways to wear them, many of which I demonstrate in my How to wear Wearable Photos tutorial.

I love that you explain them as wearing an art installation. Can you elaborate a bit on that for our readers?

What we wear is such an expression of who we are. Because of the dynamic nature of Wearable Photos – each time you wear it, depending on how you fold it, how you tie it, which part you feature, what you pair it with – it’s like you’re creating a new, temporary art installation each time. One image can look completely different based on which corner you feature if you wear it as a scarf, or by changing what jacket you put it in conversation with. The chiffon moves throughout the day as you live your life and make new memories, so you’re experiencing your day or night as a piece of art.

How has the traction for the Wearable Photos going? Can they be found in places beyond your web store?

The response has been really great. I loved that Nubia Bennett, who modeled for my Spring 2021 Wearable Photos Collection Lookbook said that she “felt inspired to BE art” and I was like – yes! You get it! I’ve had orders of every print, from Kentucky to Colorado and beyond, and am also exploring retail options so people can see and purchase the prints in person! Right now, they are printed and shipped on-demand directly to the customer.

Are there any Easter eggs in the photos? Shots of Kentucky that we might miss at first glance?

The whole collection is an exploration along the Ohio river, from experiencing it as a reflection in a pool of rainwater on a bridge like with “Traversing Reflections” to “Rotating Horizon” and “Bridging Time and Space” that are both long exposure images taken while the camera was rotating. Abraham Lincoln Bridge and Lewis & Clark Bridge are both featured in this collection – indicative of our interconnection as a community.

Do you have a favorite? If so, which one?

Of course, I love them all, but I would have to say that “Shifting Opportunity” and “Rotating Horizon” are my two favorites. I’m drawn to the abstract nature of both, I love how versatile they are, with pops of color and more subtle sections. “Pearls of Dew” has been one of the most popular in terms of online sales, along with “Oh the falls” and “Traversing Reflections.”

Will you be creating a 2022 collection?

I’ll be releasing another collection in fall 2021! This summer, my husband Theo and I are moving to Denver, CO for his new job with CU Denver, and I’ll be back and forth with my work through IDEAS xLab. So, the next collection will feature photos from Louisville and Denver. I’m also working on Wearable Photos fabrics that will be sold through the Spoonflower Marketplace, so I just ordered 4 sample prints, two from each city to see which ones to move forward with! Those four images received the most votes from people on Facebook and Instagram and I can’t wait to share with them everyone!

We saw where Queer Kentucky and LYG will be getting some donations in June! Will this be a business model for every month? Or just specific to pride?

Since things with Pride month were up in the air as we stepped into June, I thought as a queer-owned business, releasing a Pride-specific print would be a fun thing to do while supporting LGTBQ+ organizations in our community. Named fierté dans la rue [Pride in the street], that Wearable Photo features an image I took while in Paris, FR to run the 2018 Gay Games Marathon. And yes, 10% of net profits in June 2021 from sale of ” fierté dans la rue” will be donated to Queer Kentucky and Louisville Youth Group!