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Raised on a farm in Rockbridge County, Michael Miley (1841-1918) was twenty-five and a
Confederate veteran when he followed Robert E. Lee to Lexington in 1866 and opened a photographic studio there.
He had learned the craft only a year earlier, in Staunton. Miley's son would later write that his father "considered
Lee the greatest man that ever lived" and "General Lee liked Father." The friendship and trust that developed
between the two allowed Miley to produce some of the most engaging portraits ever made of Lee.
The general influenced his photographer's choice of subjects. Lee's enthusiasm for the scenery of Rockbridge
County encouraged Miley to photograph the local landscape. Miley also recorded on glass plates Lee family documents,
paintings, and other personal effects, to ensure their survival for future biographers. Copying oil portraits of the Lee family
prompted his successful experimentation with color photography. Among Miley's earliest views of Lexington are those
of the funeral of Lee, in 1870.
Following the death of the general, Miley kept active by recording contemporary life in and near Lexington.
The photographs presented here demonstrate that his interests were as varied as a region that was both backcountry
and a center of enlightenment that was home to two institutions of higher learning. At the end of the century Miley
was joined, and then succeeded, in business by his son Henry. For more than half a century, Miley & Son found
a reliable source of income from annual commissions to photograph the students of Washington and Lee University
and Virginia Military Institute; in this way the business continued into the 1930s. In 1940 the Miley & Son collection
of photographs and photographic plates was purchased for the Virginia Historical Society by the Rockefeller Foundation.
Image rights owned by the Virginia Historical Society.
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