Messianic Confessions

Photography and the Society

1984: CARLSBAD. I had already planned to go elsewhere to escape this kind of political terror. I had an invitation to come and help a large congregation in Carlsbad, California with only two elders. This congregation of over 150 publishers was presided over by a man I respected a great deal. Like me, he was from “the old school” and had been a congregation servant in the past, before the so-called “elder arrangement.” He desperately needed help, so when I told him I would come and help he was quite excited.

Thinking I would find a better Christian environment, we looked forward to a pleasant “theocratic” atmosphere. Little did I know I would be plunged into conditions every bit as evil as that in Newport Beach. There were already political intrigues afoot to remove this lone brother and replace him with one more agreeable to the traveling overseer. This was the same circuit overseer I had dealt with in Newport. I had not realized how much he had disliked me all that time.

How do I describe this kind of environment? Nearly all elders were illegally recording conversations and there were large cliques of polarizing elders. At this time a special committee was appointed by Brooklyn, because the sister of one of the GB members was married to an elder who came under certain charges. This led to the investigation of scores of elders. Later, I was to be told by this committee that of a hundred elders, I was the only one who had acted circumspectly.

One had to walk carefully through this jungle of political mine-fields. Fortunately, it is my nature not to speak evil of others, so when I was called by different elders, trying to get me to commit myself to one side or the other, there must have been a good degree of frustration, because nothing would work. In time many of these men were removed, disfellowshipped, or “left the truth.” Unfortunately, for other Christians, some of these still hold their office of authority.


About this time I had begun to notice various photos appearing in the publications which were what we in the industry called “swipes.” That is, they were “borrowing” photos from various magazines for use in the Watchtower and other publications. I always had this uncanny memory of images and usually always knew their sources, for I would have seen the “image” elsewhere. I began to notice these “images” appearing in “the literature.”

I approached a circuit overseer I admired and asked him where the Society was getting their photography. He did not know. I showed him a sample and how it had been copied from elsewhere. I told him that this is something that could lead to a considerable lawsuit if the copyrights had been violated. He suggested I correspond with the Writing Department.

I did so and was later told by one member of the Writing Department how he had taken my letter to the GB and said: “I don’t know who this brother is, but he knows what he is talking about.” I was invited (at my own expense, a normal practice) to journey to New York and spend a week helping the Writing and Art Departments to organize their photography files. My temporary office was on the Ninth Floor and next to the vice president Fred Franz.32 The brother responsible at the time told me I had likely saved the Society millions in law-suits for violating the copyrights of others.
32 FRED FRANZ. Brother Franz told a story when asked when he first met Pastor Russell. He said in his senatorial accent: “I met C. T. Russell for the first time in the pisswa while we were doing what is natural to all men.” Funny, I was also to meet Fred Franz in the same circumstances, and as we stood facing the urinals I spoke to the wall: “Well, I guess I can now tell the story of how I first met brother Franz.” He took it good-naturedly.

At this time I was just as any average JW. I was loyal to a fault and truly believed these brothers on this floor at Bethel were my major contact with God: the total source of spiritual food. So, I thoroughly enjoyed this first visit. I met and associated with several members of the writing department. I was asked to prepare an outline for Branches on photography. This finally was the basis for an article as well as the official manual on photography used around the world.

It was here also I was to be introduced to the drinking habits of some Bethelites during their work day on the Ninth and Tenth floors. Drinking in their apartments at lunch was a common experience. On one occasion an older female art director of the Awake! had a very irritable moment. It was later explained she had not had her daily mid-afternoon martini.

Most of the ideas first presented for review on this visit were to be accepted later and the publications made a logarithmic leap in overall appearance. What had once been rather staid, suddenly took on a slick appearance. Since this time I was to submit many hundreds of images for use in the Watchtower files.

On several occasions I also discussed some Biblical points, particularly on Christian organization with a couple members of the Writing Department. Correspondence continued throughout the years. I now was a name and I had desk codes to write to directly. Understand, the Society does not approve a member of the Writing Department identifying himself, and one must write using a desk code. Also, in the response, no one will be named, but only the desk code. In some cases I could identify which code went to which person.

On one visit I came to the office of a major writer for the Awake! (He had visited my home in Idyllwild earlier.) I gave him a chapter by chapter outline of the entire Bible. He looked at it quizzically and asked what it was for. I told him it was an aid to memorizing chapter themes of the entire Bible. “Why?” he asked. I said: “So we can all become more familiar with the Bible?” He asked, “Why?” again. I walked over to his expansive view-window of Watchtower buildings. Gesturing to the millions of dollars of real estate, I asked: “What is all of this for?” He seemed perplexed. I asked, “Isn’t it all for Bible education?” He said, “It is supposed to be.”

I was also encouraged to submit ideas and articles as I wished. I did this over the years and some of the ideas or themes were incorporated in articles in The Watchtower. Covers of both the Watchtower and Awake! were to feature some of my photography.33 For years I kept this absolutely secret though I learned later others, including artists, were not nearly so confidential. Many elders knew I had some contact with Brooklyn. This was only to increase that animosity from the same old political foes among JWs.
33EXAMPLES. Watchtower covers: 1/15/85; 9/1/85; 7/1/86; 9/1/86; end page 2/1/87; 4/1/87; 5/15/87; 6/1/90; 10/15/91; 4/15/92; end page, 10/1/92; 4/1/93; end page, 11/15/93; Awake!: cover: 7/22/87; double truck on sunsets: 12/8/87, pages 16, 17; end page: 12/8/87; double truck on autumn: 10/8/88; end page: 11/8/88; cover: 9/8/89; end page; 9/22/89 end page: 2/8/90; end page: 5/22/91; cover: 12/22/94; end page: 10/8/93; end page: 9/15/94; cover: 8/8/96.
In addition to covers and end pages many scores of photos have appeared within magazines as well as books, booklets, tracts, convention identification badges. Also, many art renderings and graphic designs were based on my photography. My wife and all my children appeared in photos in the literature. Wife and daughter: Awake! 5/8/87; my oldest son and first grandson: Awake! 5/22/87; youngest daughter, Sierra Skye: 10/8/87, page 2; also, 12/8/88, page 17; my niece, page 2, 5/22/89; personal friend and former Bible student: page 18, 6/8/89

These political intrigues were not limited to me. Even members of the writing department were often recorded while giving talks and then criticized. Even the Service Department itself was to be accused of “apostasy” by elders in south Orange County and northern San Diego county.

This was 1983-4. Everyone was getting computers and using them in their studies or organizational preparations. I was to begin major studies on the Bible, including an outline of the entire Bible and the compilation of key search words. The Society began working on some highly sophisticated computer programs, including MEPS, a massive translating and typesetting program which attracted much interest from IBM as well as whole nations who wanted such a system. Later, the CD-ROM library was available for research in Watchtower publications and the Bible.

A few years before, while recovering from surgery, I was approached to become the senior photo editor for a company called FirstVision which was creating the first compact photo disc. At that time no one thought of the computer, but later Kodak and others would take this up and so today we have such photo CD-ROM disks. In 1996 I was to sell certain rights to Canon of Australia for royalty free computer publication of 100 images from my file. This is likely where the future lies in this field of stock photography.

Nazarene Commentary 2000

Mark Heber Miller

2000 All Rights Reserved