Once upon a time, the strewn ashes formed the skeletal infrastructure of Henry Valentine Miller, who called himself “the happiest man alive.” Raw and robust in physique, he was tall, slender and gloriously ugly of face in an old-fashioned way. Which means photographers sought him out, as the resulting photos exposed a most decorative piece of work – a delightful, irregular clot of ebullient life.
Born in Manhattan, New York, Miller grew up in Brooklyn. For a short time he attended City College of New York, but dropped out because he found formal academics suffocating. Miller wanted to write, eat, drink, and fornicate. To live life like most people would, if they could only shed the itchy skin of sanctimony.
Miller moved to Paris in 1930, where he lived like a street person, sleeping on the floors of friends’ apartments, begging for food, scavenging and, of course, writing. The literary fruit of this lifestyle was Tropic of Cancer, a ribald, autobiographical novel that reads like an animated, graphic essay. Because of its overt sex scenes, honest language, and innovative style, no publisher in the United States would touch the book.