In Memoriam: Wayne Miller (1918 – 2013)

To photograph mankind and explain man to man — that was how legendary photographer Wayne Miller described his decades-long drive to document the myriad subjects gracing his work. Miller passed away Wednesday at the age of 94 at his home in California.

Rene Burri—Magnum

Rene Burri—Magnum

Wayne Miller in 2001

Miller began pursuing photography while attending college at the University of Illinois, Urbana, shooting for the school’s yearbook. Following a two-year stint at the Art Center School of Los Angeles, Miller started working as a photographer for the U.S. Navy, serving in the Pacific Theater under Edward Steichen’s Naval Aviation Unit.

“We had Navy orders that allowed us to go any place we wanted to go and, when we got done, to go home,” Miller said in an interview with the American Society of Media Photographers. “It was fantastic.”

Miller’s reportage-style images of life and death aboard U.S. aircraft carriers provide a visual narrative for a field of battle largely unknown to the American public. Miller’s war-time photographs illustrate the tension and tragedy of bloodshed and destruction underneath the beautiful skies and billowing white clouds of the South Pacific.

And after Japan capitulated in September 1945, Miller was one of the first photographers to enter Hiroshima, documenting the unimaginable effects of the 20-kilton atomic bomb detonated over the city the previous month. Miller photographed victims suffering from acute radiation poisoning and severe shock in the ruins of a city reduced to rubble in one great flash.

Miller received two grants from the Guggenheim Foundation to photograph his next major project, a documentary look at the streets of Chicago’s South Side, his hometown. Shooting between 1946 and 1948, his work — a mix of portraits and environmental scenes — broke convictions for its look at the black communities living and working in postwar Chicago.

USA. Illinois. Chicago. 1948. An alley between overcrowded tenements, with garbage thrown over the railings of the back porches. Most of the area's tenants were transient.

Wayne Miller—Magnum

An alley between overcrowded tenements, with garbage thrown over the railings of the back porches. Most of the area's tenants were transient. Chicago, 1948.

“Up until that time, these [photographs] were considered snapshots by the public and by the commercial world,” he told ASMP. The visual weight of his work didn’t go unnoticed — the hope, worry, excitement, struggle and leisure pictured in ‘The Ways of Life of the Northern Negro’ remains striking even to modern viewers today.

After his Chicago body of work, Miller went on to work as a photographer for LIFE until 1953. He began collaborating with his old boss, Steichen, on a new project called the “Family of Man” — an ambitious look at the commonalities among humans around the world through the work of 273 photographers (including Miller). As an associate curator, Miller helped Steichen produce and organize the show’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1955. One of Miller’s photographs even graced the cover of LIFE that February.

Miller held the title of president of the prestigious Magnum photo agency from 1962-1968, leading the cooperative before beginning a career with the National Park Service and later, CBS. In the mid 1970s, Miller put down his camera to follow his passion for the environment, purchasing a small plot of redwood forest in Mendocino County. For the next several years, he worked to combat tax laws that favored clear cutting forests. He continued to push for sustainable practices through retirement.

Miller is survived by his wife Joan, four child, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild.


The film about Miller’s career, embedded above, is ‘The World is Young” by Theo Rigby, a photographer and filmmaker based in San Francisco.

Vaughn Wallace is the producer of LightBox. Follow him on Twitter @vaughnwallace.


Related Topics: , , , , , , , , ,

Latest Posts

2014.  Gaza.  Palestine.  Schoolchildren head to class at the Sobhi Abu Karsh School in the Shujai'iya neighborhood. Operation Protective Edge lasted from 8 July 2014 – 26 August 2014, killing 2,189 Palestinians of which 1,486 are believed to be civilians. 66 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians were killed.  It's estimated that 4,564 rockets were fired at Israel by Palestinian militants.

Inside Gaza with Photographer Peter van Agtmael

What photographer Peter van Agtmael encountered in Gaza changed the way he worked.

Read More
WASTELAND PERMITTED USE: This image may be downloaded or is otherwise provided at no charge for one-time use for coverage or promotion of National Geographic magazine dated December 2014 and exclusively in conjunction thereof.  No copying, distribution or archiving permitted.  Sublicensing, sale or resale is prohibited.     REQUIRED CREDIT AND CAPTION: All image uses must bear the copyright notice and be properly credited to the relevant photographer, as shown in this metadata, and must be accompanied by a caption, which makes reference to NGM.  Any uses in which the image appears without proper copyright notice, photographer credit and a caption referencing NGM are subject to paid licensing.        Mandatory usage requirements: (Please note: you may select 5 branded images for online use and 3 images for print/unbranded)1. Include mandatory photo credit with each image2. Show the December cover of National Geographic somewhere in the post (credit: National Geographic) unless using only one image3. Provide a prominent link to: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/12/superfund/voosen-textat the top of your piece, ahead of the photos 4. Mention that the images are from "the December issue of National Geographic magazine” GOWANUS CANALNew York, New YorkPollutants: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury, lead, copperYear listed: 2010Carved from a tidal estuary 160 years ago, the Gowanus Canal is Brooklyn’s industrial artery—and a deeply polluted waterway. Even so, it’s frequented by herons, seagulls, crabs, and canoeists. Defying local fears of economic stigma, the EPA listed the canal as a Superfund site in 2010. It hopes to start dredging contaminated mud in 2016.

Photojournalism Daily: Nov. 24, 2014

Mideast Israel Palestinians

The Best Pictures of the Week: Nov. 14 – Nov. 21

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 19,275 other followers