Meet Lester J. Millman, Award-Winning Photojournalist and SUNY Empire State College Alumnus
By Vickie Moller, student, Long Island Center-Hauppauge Unit and 2011-2012 student representative, Student Affairs Committee
February 8, 2013
Lester J. Millman is a national and international award-winning photojournalist. His prestigious career, spanning 30 years, has included assignments for Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Jerusalem Post and the St. Louis Post Dispatch, among many others. A partial list of his commercial clients includes the State of New York, IBM, Texaco, Met Life and the National Parks Foundation.
Millman has covered two wars, seven U.S. presidents and was photographer to Governors George E. Pataki and Eliot Spitzer and Lt. Gov. David Patterson. His photojournalism awards include Picture of the Year (U.S. national) for news coverage and World Press Photo Contest (international, Holland) for news portraiture.
As the sole photographer to Pataki, Millman gained access to Ground Zero at the World Trade Center from the first night on Sept. 11, 2001 to the ‘March Out’ May 30, 2002. His images appear in the original timeline posted at Ground Zero and at the New York State Museum in Albany, as well as the 9-11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero. Many other publications also have used Millman’s work.
In a recent interview, Millman explained that although he had studied photography at the Germain School of Photography in New York City and was already enjoying a successful, award-winning career, he felt he lacked the academic degree he needed to justify his work.
In 1996, after hearing about SUNY Empire State College from a friend, Millman began to explore the educational opportunities that were available to him at Empire. He was pleased to learn that, unlike so many other schools he had investigated whose photography programs were limited to fine arts photography, SUNY Empire State College would work with him to create a program of study geared to “real-life world photography.”
Since there was no model to follow, Millman worked closely with his primary mentor to create and defend his degree program. “Leontyn Temsky (now retired), at the Hudson Valley Center, took me under her wing. Without her help in directing my prior credits and additional required courses, none of this would have happened,” said Millman.
Using work from his archives combined with the distinct categories of the news picture competitions mentioned above, Millman wrote hundreds of pages to define and defend his degree program.
“Empire State College allowed me to explore my career in the format of academic course work…and they granted me the Bachelor of Science degree that I felt I had achieved. There is no other school like it,” Millman said.
While pursuing his degree, Millman was employed by the governor of New York state, working 60 or more hours per week on a very irregular schedule. Still, the flexibility afforded him as a student at Empire State College allowed him to complete his degree. When he found himself in a strange city for the night, Millman conducted research for his papers in his hotel room, completing them when he arrived home.
“With the schedule I worked, regular in-classroom classes for 15 weeks were out of the question. With my mentor's help I could do the work as my schedule permitted and show my aptitude with writing, not with timed and assigned testing on a particular date,” Millman said.
In addition to earning a Bachelor of Science in Photojournalism from Empire State College in 1997 through some very unusual and challenging circumstances, Millman has since written five novels, published a photography book, a reading book for learning disabled teenage boys and numerous articles on photography and business.
When asked what advice he had for SUNY Empire State College students, Millman said, “Putting impediments in your way is easy, clearing the route much harder. Getting a degree has to be seen as a job; and like any job, to earn you must do the work.”
Today Millman maintains a busy photography schedule and lectures on 9-11 and various other topics. Information on his lecture about the World Trade Center terrorist attack and America’s response to it, illustrated with Millman’s own photographs, can be found at lestermillman.com.