Under his original family name, Milner, during the interwar years, Victor Miller was a leading Hollywood cinematographer, best known for his work for the German-American director Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947).
However, at the beginning of his career, when still only 20 years of age and working as a newsreel cameraman for Pathe’s Weekly, Miller contributed to the canon of films of ethnographic interest in the form of footage shot at the 1913 Snake Dance ceremony at the Hopi village of Wàlpi, Arizona. This is archived in the Library of Congress under the misleading title Hopi Indians Dance for Theodore Roosevelt.
Despite his youth, Miller was already an experienced cinematographer: the previous winter, he had shot the fictional feature film Hiawatha, made in collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History, which was based on the epic Longfellow poem and directed by Frank E. Moore. Although not strictly ethnographic, this film had involved 150 Native actors, mainly Sioux, Ojibwa and Menomonee.
Later in 1913, he would win plaudits in the cinema industry press for filming during the Colorado Coalfield miners’ strike, even when bullets were flying. This is when the portrait of him at the head of this entry was taken.
In 1916, he travelled to what was then the Belgian Congo (today the Democratic Republic of Congo and formerly Zaire). The overall reason for this trip is unclear, but a report in the cinema industry press suggests that during his travels through the country, he shot some sequences of local customary practices.