Lara Miller: Pacing The Pitch
"We're bonded by this game." Award-winning photographer and rugby player Lara Miller loves to support ‘badass women’. We chat to her about her passion and find out why she’s such an advocate for the women’s game
Lara Miller grew up in Singapore and Dubai before moving back to London for secondary school. She went on to study photography at Middlesex University and it was during her final year that she discovered her real passion for rugby as part of a catering job at the home of top club Saracens. Recognising the disparity between men’s and women’s rugby, she then spent time behind the scenes with the Saracens women’s squad. Lara’s keen interest in the representation of women, her growing talent for portrait photography and her links to rugby, placed her on an unexpected path that has since moulded her young career in the world of the women’s game
Glorious: When and how did your career in photography begin?
Lara Miller: The pivotal moment came during my last year at university. I was working part time, front of house at StoneX stadium, home to Saracens (then Allianz Park). I began to notice how the men’s match day was a huge event with a full stadium, programmes and activities, whereas the women’s team played with no team sheet and 50 in attendance if they were lucky; this is just a reflection of women’s sport at the time. I thought those athletes deserved to be seen so I contacted Saracens and the women’s coach, ‘Bear’. I asked if I could photograph training and matches for a university project and said I would be happy to share the images; these eventually became paid work. I remember feeling really proud, being able to photograph these badass women! Sometimes I was the only photographer on the pitch and definitely the only young woman at the time. I felt it gave me an edge, as what I could portray was a different perspective of these women and access into a world that was closer to mine.
Glorious: What made you choose photography as a method to showcase representation of women (in sport)?
Lara Miller: I love drawing and painting but photography allows me to document exactly what is in front of me with no distraction. When I’m photographing action shots in particular, I feel that it allows me to pause a moment that is too fast to see within a game. You end up with these really beautiful moments that are completely sculptural and highlight muscle, form and strength. I find these images are really powerful and they made me fall in love with photographing sport.
Glorious: Photographing rugby made you want to play the game yourself. What is it that you love about this sport so much?
Lara Miller: I love the physicality of rugby; I play number 8 or flank for Thamesians Women. I’m happy as long as I’m a forward! Rugby has given me focus, structure, goals and a reason to be healthier and fitter in my life. Playing rugby reminds me that my body and mind are strong and powerful and that I am capable of doing anything I put my mind to. With my teammates, it’s a sense of family; you are bonded by this game. We support each other on and off the pitch, you always want your teammate to be the best they can be and I think you don’t get that in a lot of other spaces. It’s all love!
Glorious: You often capture portraits. What is special about these, and what elements are you keen to focus on?
Lara Miller: Capturing a portrait is so personal. What I try to highlight with my portraits is how beautifully different everyone can be and that there is space for everyone in this community. I focus on the person in front of me and how their energy fills the frame. When I’m taking portraits they are a quiet moment with someone who is trusting you to represent them authentically.
Glorious: With your emotive and powerful works, you won The Rugby Journal’s Portrait of the Year Award in 2019. What impact did this award have on your work – what’s changed since then?
Lara Miller: Winning an award like The Rugby Journal’s Portrait of the Year was a game changer so early on in my career. It’s given me more exposure, which has led to new opportunities. I have met really inspiring people with great things to say and also other artists exploring similar themes. It gave me a lot of confidence to get recognised for a photograph that meant a lot to me and a topic that I am so passionate about. I guess it just confirmed that people care about the women I am photographing and the stories they have to tell.
Glorious: What has been your photographic highlight to date and why?
Lara Miller: It would have to be when I photographed Sarah Hunter MBE, Captain of the Red Roses and most capped England player of all time, for the cover of The Rugby Journal. Sarah recently played her last game for England as she is retiring, so this photograph is even more of a highlight now, as the cover feels a bit historic! I am honoured to have photographed her whilst she was playing and to have met such a well-respected athlete.
Glorious: What story do you want to tell through your photography?
Lara Miller: I want to tell the story that people can be anything they want to be. Sports are for women. Rugby is for women – and if you don’t watch us, we will play anyway. We are resilient and always have been and we are not going anywhere. I aim to reconsider the social construct of what women are expected to be by rejecting stereotypes and celebrating individuality.
Glorious: Do you have an interest in any other sports? Are there any other sports you would like to photograph?
Lara Miller: I have recently watched several football games at Brentford as that is my local team. I went with my grandad as he grew up around that area, so it was nice to share the experience with him.
In terms of photography, I am drawn to really physical contact sports like boxing. Or on the flip side, it would be really cool to counteract and photograph male ballerinas, for example. I think it would work as a project with a comment on the ideas surrounding masculinity, which is something I have been wanting to do for a while now. Watch this space!
Glorious: Women’s sport (still) gets less attention and false assumptions. How can we deliver change in women’s rugby and women’s sports in general?
Lara Miller: Investment is needed in women’s sports. Athletes need to be paid, seen and supported. In order to stop making false assumptions and change attitudes, people need to be exposed to women playing sports and have access to watch games. The more people that watch the game, the more people will fall in love with it. The more daughters that play sports, the more influence their family has on the power of playing. American rugby union player Ilona Maher posted a TikTok saying: when someone asks, “Are you watching the game?” ask them, “Women’s or men’s?” I think that’s the perfect way to open up the conversation and make people consider women’s sport.
Glorious: You are a co-founder of PACE zine. Tell us about this, why you established it and its aim?
Lara Miller: Myself and Lara Di Ferdinando started PACE with the aim to fill the undeniable gap of representation in women’s rugby with a focus on grassroots. When we launched in 2020, the very little exposure women’s rugby had was purely at elite level, so we created PACE to highlight grassroots clubs. Grassroots have such heart and are run by volunteers; we wanted to shine a light on these stories of how clubs keep going. The aim of PACE is to collaborate with artists, writers and athletes to tell stories about our world. Lara DF is an amazing graphic designer and I’m a photographer, so together we are the perfect team!
Glorious: You photographed a Red Roses watch party for the opening match of the Women’s Six Nations. How was this event?
Lara Miller: It was such a fun vibe with a friendly atmosphere. I think everyone really enjoyed themselves. It’s great to always see how the fans come together and get on so well. Players from women’s teams all over attended and it’s a small community so everyone has either played on the same team or against each other. It was great to have a chat off the pitch and mix with some really cool rugby personalities and players.
Glorious: If you could photograph portraits of three inspirational women, who would you choose and why?
Lara Miller: Shaunagh Brown; I love her confidence to really be who she is and she is such a presence. I think a lot of people in the rugby community really look up to her. Serena Williams, for obvious reasons! Rupi Kaur, my favourite poet. She’s so dreamy!
Glorious: What’s next for Lara Miller?
Lara Miller: I am moving to Greece next week. I want to connect with and photograph some interesting people, perhaps some yogis. I think the universe can bring you a lot of opportunities when you least expect it and when you are open to receiving. I’m not actually sure how big rugby is in Greece but if there is an opportunity to play (and photograph) there, I would love to do that also.