Then and Now

25 Years Photographing UW-Madison
Jeff Miller in 1990 and 2016
Jeff Miller in 1990 and 2016

Visually documenting what happens on a university campus with the breadth and depth of UW–Madison is an ever-evolving mission. Photographs are a unique medium, providing a sense of place and time; capturing people, styles and milestones; and preserving a historical record.

Since joining UW–Madison in September 1990, University Communications senior photographer Jeff Miller has captured many such moments in the ongoing story of UW–Madison. Marking his quarter century on campus with a yearlong series of monthly image pairings, Miller returned throughout the 2015/2016 academic year to subjects he photographed in his first year to highlight the changes and continuities in campus life.

September 1990 / September 2015 Building a football powerhouse

My very first assignment at UW–Madison was the Wisconsin vs. Temple football game on Sept. 22, 1990. The Badgers lost, 24-18, before a modest crowd of 41,187. Still, coming from my perspective as former photographer at a much smaller university, Camp Randall Stadium felt massive and the crowd’s energy was overwhelming.

I didn’t really grasp that this was the second home game in the debut season of then-head football Coach Barry Alvarez. Alvarez inherited a football program that had not had a winning season since 1984. Upon his hiring earlier in the year, he famously said of beleaguered Badger fans: "They better get season tickets right now, because before long, they won't be able to." He quickly led the team back to respectability, winning three Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl victories in the decade to follow.

Fast-forwarding to the 2015 Wisconsin football season, 76,535 fans rocked the several-times-expanded Camp Randall Stadium for the home-game debut of new head coach Paul Chryst, hired by Athletic Director Alvarez. The Badgers dominated the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks, 58-0.

The future looks bright, and full of Badger red.

Photo of 1990 game against Temple Photo of 2015 game against Miami Ohio

October 1990 / October 2015 Home, sweet home

Homecoming Week is a time of nostalgia and reflection for many Badger alumni. It’s a great time to return to campus, take in the changing scenery amid crisp autumn weather, rekindle college-day memories and friendships, and perhaps partake in song with a bit of "Varsity" and "U-rah-rah."

It’s also a good time for a spirited celebration, and the annual UW Homecoming Parade consistently delivers with a steady stream of colorful floats, performances by the UW Spirit Squad and UW Marching Band, and throngs of children watching in anticipation as the next bit of candy is thrown.

Sure, one may notice changes in the landscape — like this storefront at State and Lake streets, which has evolved from Brown's Book Shop in the early 1990s to the University Book Store's Digital Outpost to a soon-to-open 7-Eleven. But a distinct On, Wisconsin vibe always remains.

Photo of 1990 homecoming parade Photo of 2015 homecoming parade

November 1990 / November 2015 Big things start small

When I first met Robert Hamers, he was 32 and one of the newest members of UW–Madison’s chemistry faculty. I was 26 and documenting his research in the newly evolving area of scanning tunneling microscopy and nanotechnology. For both of us, fall 1990 was our first semester on campus.

Speaking about the pioneering tools of the time, Hamers said that a scanning tunneling microscope allows researchers to look at individual atoms, see how they’re arranged on the surface of an object and differentiate among elements. In other words, an otherworldly look into really tiny stuff with the potential to understand how one might modify electronic and chemical properties of things at this minute level.

Twenty-five years later, you may not see Hamers spending as much hands-on time in the lab but he is at the peak of his career teaching, directing graduate students running projects in multiple research labs and coordinating a wealth of new endeavors. He is a Wisconsin Distinguished Professor and Steenbock Professor of Physical Sciences.

In 2007, Hamers and fellow chemistry Professor Bob West founded Silatronix, a spinoff company working to develop safer electrolyte compounds for high-energy batteries.

This summer, the National Science Foundation awarded a $20 million grant to the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology — a multi-institutional research center based at UW–Madison and directed by Hamers — to further focus on the molecular mechanisms by which nanoparticles interact with biological systems.

Hamers says of his many current pursuits: “I’m having a fun time coordinating and collaborating with all these smart people.”

Reflecting on my own 25-year career, I couldn’t agree more.

Photo of Hamers in 1990 Photo of Hamers in 2015

December 1990 / December 2015 Exotic critter care

I have a strong love for animals and a tireless desire to chase interesting visual opportunities. Not surprisingly, UW Veterinary Care at the UW–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine is one my favorite places on campus.

Over the years, I've photographed a wide range of domesticated and farm animals — birds, bunnies, cats, cows, dogs, ferrets, horses, lizards and snakes — undergoing medical care and rehabilitation at the teaching hospital.

The real privilege has been the chance to document the care of more exotic critters and wildlife — an alligator in need of a dental cleaning, an owl recovering from cataract surgery, the nursing of a baby camel and so on.

In 1990, one of my first such visits was to photograph veterinary clinical instructor Julia Langenburg examining the eye and health of a parrot.

More recently, I was able to document the case of a sickly sandhill crane chick. Earlier radiographs and tests revealed that the bird had swallowed a metal grommet and was suffering from lead poisoning. I photographed the endoscopy procedure that removed the washer from the chick's stomach. It was fascinating to observe the application of veterinary knowledge with near-constant human touch as anesthesiologists Tatiana Ferreira, left, and Nicole Sinclair monitored their feathered patient.

Following a successful surgery, the crane spent several weeks recovering at a nearby wildlife center and was recently observed flying south for the winter with its foster parents.

Photo of a parrot being examined Photo of a sandhill crane chick

January 1991 / January 2016 Winter keeps us wondering

Living along the jet stream — those fast-flowing air currents in the upper atmosphere circling the earth — brings its share of erratic weather patterns and unpredictability.

Researching some Wisconsin State Climatology Office records, I'm reminded that the 1990/1991 winter season had its moments. On Dec. 3, 1990, a blizzard dumped more than 17 inches of snow, shut down the campus and left me completely snowed in on the west side of town for a couple days. That winter also delivered multiple days with temperatures well below zero, 55 inches of cumulative seasonal snowfall and 88 days of ice cover on Lake Mendota, from the day after Christmas to March 24.

This winter began with a not-white Christmas and a lingering warm spell that left many wondering when — or if — the city's lakes would fully freeze.

As mild and foggy weather continued into January, I began working on a series of photographs with the working title "unfrozen Lake Mendota." But another pesky shift in the jet stream caused Madison's weather to abruptly shift from high 30s and rainy on Jan. 8 to frigid, single-digit temperatures only a few days later. Meteorologists said that it was a perfect condition for "instant ice" and Jan. 11, 2016, became the official freeze date for Lake Mendota this season. The daily temperature since remains well below freezing.

Now the question is: "How long will the ice last?”

* For fans of weather statistics, Jan. 30, 1932, is the latest record freeze date for Lake Mendota. Jan. 20, 2007, is the second latest. The earliest Mendota thaw open date is Feb. 27, 1998, followed by March 7, 2000, as the second earliest. Source:

Photo of a bike in the snow Photo of unfrozen Lake Mendota

February 1991 / February 2016 Prompting change

UW–Madison has a longstanding tradition of people challenging the status quo and vigorously campaigning to bring about political or social change. It’s even immortalized in bronze on a plaque at the entrance to Bascom Hall.

“Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great State University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth may be found.”

In early 1991, I photographed more than 200 UW–Madison students and community members rallying as part of a nationwide protest against the United States' involvement in the Persian Gulf War. The group marched against stalled traffic on Johnson Street, making its way from Library Mall to Bascom Hall to present a petition requesting a day of supplementary education about the war.

Chancellor Donna E. Shalala set aside Feb. 8, 1991, as that educational day, but insisted that classes also go on as scheduled.

On Feb. 5, 2016, more than 50 people aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement interrupted a University of Wisconsin Board of Regents meeting on campus to call for increased diversity efforts in the UW System. UW–Madison students Nehemiah Siyoum (left of center) and Tyriek Mack repeated their demands several times before the group peacefully exited the meeting.

Witnessing these moments reminds me both how far we've come as a campus and a country and how far we have to go on so many issues, from the conflict in the Middle East to inequality within our borders. While I feel that it's an uphill battle to achieve lasting change, I'm optimistic that our campus community continues the tradition of speaking out.

Photo of Persian Gulf War protest in early 1991 Photo of Black Lives Matter demonstration at Board of Regents meeting in Feburary 2016

March 1991 / March 2016 Turning adversity into opportunity

On March 11, 2016, UW–Madison Police Chief Susan Riseling relaxed the necktie on her uniform and sat down to enjoy some well-deserved cake during a social event honoring the 25th anniversary of her becoming the first woman to lead a Big Ten university police force. She also jokingly barked at me, "Enough with the pictures! Would you stop already?"

Chief Riseling and I are both noting 25-year milestones in our respective careers. Since I first photographed Riseling in her office in March 1991, we have grown to know and respect one another’s collegial style in a manner that only time and experience can offer. We've also witnessed several major events and turning points in UW–Madison's recent quarter century of history.

There were grave moments like the crowd surge following a Wisconsin football victory over Michigan at Camp Randall Stadium in 1993 (an event that left numerous people critically injured) or the time more than 5,000 people gathered on Library Mall to mourn the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

There were joyous moments of athletic achievement and fan exuberance: multiple tournament runs for the Rose Bowl (football), the NCAA Final Four (men's basketball) and the NCAA Frozen Four (men's and women's hockey).

And then there were the challenges and rewards of helping the university successfully host multiple dignitaries — including several visits by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and two outdoor visits by President Barack Obama — and conferring more than 200,000 degrees to graduates.

Through it all, Chief Riseling remains optimistic as she continues to turn moments of adversity into opportunity for growth. She’s particularly proud of her department’s role in accomplishing a forty-plus-year low in reported campus crime.

Photo of Riseling in her office in 1991 Photo of Riseling at a 25th anniversary celebration for her

April 1991 / April 2016 Rocking campus

I’m dating myself here, but do you remember the heyday of music videos and glam rock bands in the late eighties and early nineties? They provided the soundtrack for many college-aged youth of the time.

In April 1991, people on the Memorial Union Terrace got a first-hand look as MTV visited UW–Madison to film segments of its program “Hot Seat” with the luxuriantly locked, guitar-slinging members of the rock bands Nelson and Cinderella. Pictured clockwise from bottom left, brothers Matthew and Gunnar Nelson mug for the camera alongside Cinderella’s drummer Fred Coury and lead singer Tom Kiefer as a group of students scream in the background.

Fast forward 25 years, and glitter-eyed Hayley Jordanna of the Chicago punk band Glamour Hotline belts out her own vibe during a recent performance in The Sett at Union South. The show, organized by the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s music committee, was part of FemFest, an evening of music featuring five feminist bands from the Midwest.

May the eclectic beat of campus music go on!

Photo of the bands Nelson and Cinderalla in 1991 on the Terrace Photo of the band Glamour performing

May 1991 / May 2016 Pomp and Circumstance

I’ve photographed so many college commencement ceremonies during my career that a boss once joked that I could probably do it in my sleep. But doing so would be a disservice to the pomp and circumstance of the event, not to mention the graduates who’ve worked so hard to reach this day.

Sure, there are times that each graduation starts to feel the same. That’s when I challenge myself to look beyond the sameness. Much of the creative fun is finding the moments and stories unique to each year.

I’m often astounded by the creativity our students show decorating their mortarboards. I can think of several spirited instances when beach balls, bubbles and strands of silly string floated above graduates’ heads. As cell phones become more commonplace, many graduates could be seen waving to friends and family members in the crowd while also talking to them on the phone. Hashtags, selfie sticks and social media posts are the current tools for personal expression.

In 2014, commencement returned to Camp Randall Stadium for an outdoor ceremony (professional and honorary degrees continue to be conferred the day before at the Kohl Center). This large ceremony is now thought of as a bookend to students’ college careers, which begin with the entire class gathering at the chancellor's convocation for new students.

Throughout the years, one element of UW–Madison’s commencement remains decidedly the same — the pride and joy on the graduates’ faces as they become Badger alumni forever.

Photo from 1991 commencement in the Field House Photo from 2016 spring commencement in Camp Randall Stadium

June 1991 / June 2016 Still afloat

The UW–Madison campus hugs more than two miles of shoreline along Lake Mendota, a body of water that has been called the most studied lake in the United States.

In addition to extensive research opportunities, the lake provides a playground for many people to practice the concepts of buoyancy — defined as the ability of an object to float or rise, or a feeling of relative lightness and cheerful disposition.

In June 1991, I came upon a group of Hoofer Sailing Club members and staff bailing out a sailboat that had capsized and taken on serious water near a pier at the Memorial Union Terrace. With the classic "can-do" spirit that Hoofers is known for, several people splashed about, stuffing in and tethering large chunks of Styrofoam to the boat for added floatation while others emptied bucket upon bucket of water from the boat's hull. It was a buoyant moment of success, for sure.

Twenty-five years later, the Hoofers fleet continues to dot the Terrace shoreline. Hoofers is now part of an umbrella organization known as Outdoor UW, which a provides a broad range of classes and equipment rentals. After two years of pilot programming, Outdoor UW recently launched a regular summer morning class called standup paddleboard (SUP) yoga. Think of it as floating with a twist, with buoyancy definitely being one of the goals. And yes, I did in fact don a life jacket and wade into the still cool water with camera balanced atop a paddleboard to make the picture!


Photo from 1991 of a Hoofers boat capsized Photo from 2016 of stand-up paddle boarding yoga

July 1991 / July 2016 One city block

I've witnessed many changes to the physical look of campus in my 25 years as a photographer for UW–Madison. However, one area in particular — an entire city block bounded by University Avenue, North Park, North Brooks and West Johnson streets — really stands out for me.

Looking through my office's photo archives, I was reacquainted with a series of photographs I made in July 1991 of work crews demolishing an old Walgreens store and the university's former Law Clinical Programs building to prepare for construction of the $34.4 million Grainger Hall of Business Administration.

The building — completed in 1993 and named for David W. Grainger, a 1950 UW–Madison alumnus, president of The Grainger Foundation and chairman of the board of W.W. Grainger, Inc. — allowed UW–Madison's business school to house all of its faculty and programs in one facility for the first time since the early 1970s. The Grainger Foundation contributed more than $8 million toward the project, the single largest gift in the university's history at the time.

In summer 2008, an addition to Grainger Hall — funded in part by an additional $20 million gift from The Grainger Foundation — added another 131,416 square feet of space and a new main entrance to the building at the intersection of N. Park Street and University Avenue.

Wow! That's a lot of change and growth in 25 years. It may sound like a lot of details, dollars and construction materials, but what I see is an impressive and thriving home for the Wisconsin School of Business in an open lot that reportedly used to contain an old swing set.

Funny thing is, my biggest personal challenge in reflecting on this month's Then and Now pairing involved figuring out where I made the 1991 overview image so I could recreate the modern-day perspective. After much sleuthing and arranged access, I found that the answer is an upper stairwell window in Barnard Residence Hall, looking south across University Avenue.

Photo from 1991 of Grainger Hall construction Photo from 2016 of sunrise over Grainger Hall

August 1991 / August 2016 Are you ready?

Wow! Twenty-five years of adventure and counting!

In 1990, the university communications director took a chance and hired a 26-year-old me (a non-Badger!) as a university photographer. She advised me, "This is an absolutely awesome place to work. It's also a maddening place … and the feeling may change daily, if not hourly." She was so right!

Without a doubt, UW–Madison is a big, complex institution that can be a struggle for the meek. It's also full of opportunities — many of which I've embraced, occasionally stumbled through and sometimes failed to conquer. But I've always grown in ability and character as a result.

Looking back, I can't help but think of the generations of students who have encountered their own life-shaping experiences at UW–Madison. Many begin by attending a summer program known as Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration (SOAR).

During the summer of 1990, SOAR — still a relatively new program — helped incoming students get a feel for campus. The program emphasized working with an academic advisor to navigate course options and register — using touchtone phones — for classes. By the end of the experience, many students had made several personal connections and had their fall semester schedule in hand.

As the annual wave of more than 4,000 incoming students continues, so does SOAR. In-depth, personalized advising remains central. Students now can take a campus tour and stay overnight in a residence hall. Ever-expanding programming includes even more robust social opportunities and numerous sessions to candidly discuss themes such as academic success, extracurricular opportunities and resources, inclusion, interpersonal skills, and personal safety. There's even a parallel track for parents and guests.

Echoing the "Are you ready?” theme of SOAR 2016, I look forward to continuing the Wisconsin Experience with this next generation of Badgers. 

On, Wisconsin!

Photo from 1991 of orientation Photo from 2016 of SOAR