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Sharp Shooter

A project conceived to help him heal ends up helping a legendary photographer give back.

Sandro Miller, as himself

“About 3 1/2 years ago, I came down with a very life-threatening illness and really didn’t know if I was going to make it,” says Chicago-based photographer Sandro Miller. “You begin to think of things that changed your life. Things that meant so much to your life. And I began to think about photographers.”

He conceived a series that, through near-exact imitation, would pay homage to some of the greatest portraits in photographic history—Hemingway by Yousuf Karsh, and Picasso by Irving Penn, for instance. Miller then flew to France, naturally, to run the idea past his longtime friend and “muse” John Malkovich. The result was 41 masterful and strange images that went viral before they could even be exhibited (as they have been, all over the world). “We figure close to 700 million saw the work by the end of that first month,” he says, “which is just ridiculous.”

The photos—now collected in The Malkovich Sessions ($95, Glitterati)—are only the latest tour de force in a career that has included some of the top commercial and editorial work anywhere.

What’s next? He recently finished an ad campaign for the American Cancer Society and a film for orphanages in Latin America. “From being sick, I learned more and more about love,” he says. “And that I have a huge responsibility to give back.”

Mary Ellen Mark, Richard Avedon, giving back

Mediocrity, images with no ideas behind them