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Wayne Miller dies: WWII and Life photographer, dead at 94

Posted By GABRIELLE LEVY, UPI.com   |   May 23, 2013 at 7:34 AM   |   Comments

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May 23 (UPI) -- Through Wayne Miller's lens, the world saw black America with new eyes.

Miller, a photographer who was among the first to see the destruction at Hiroshima and who became known for his images of South Side Chicago life and the African American migration, died at his home Wednesday at the age of 94.

Magnum photos, the collective to which Miller belonged for more than 50 years, announced his death in a statement.

"Though his images speak for themselves, by all accounts, what made Wayne Miller a great photographer was his drive to capture the humanity in all his subjects -- the underlying, indefinable qualities that exist beneath our skin and behind our eyes, uniting us all," the statement said.

Miller studied photography in Los Angeles and, as a lieutenant in the Navy during World War II, he served as a member of Edward Steichen's photo 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, describing the experience to the American Society of Media Photographers in 1994. “It was fantastic.”

But it was two grants from the Guggenheim foundation that paved the way for Miller to create his most ambitious and lasting images, taken between 1946 and 1948 on Chicago's predominantly black South Side.

"The Ways of Life of the Northern Negro" was an unflinching and unconventional portrait of a city and population in flux.

These "seminal images of American history, each one freighted with the context of what it was to be black in postwar Chicago" were so unexpected from a white man at the time that when Alex Majoli, current president of Magnum, first met Miller, he was shocked to learn Miller wasn't black.

"I had always imagined the man to be black," Majoli said. "He paved the ground for the rest of us who tried to depict the streets, the real life. He was a pioneer."

After Chicago, Miller worked for LIFE Magazine until 1953, and then helped his former boss Steichen curate the ambitious "Family of Man" project, which pooled images from 273 photographers from around the world into an exhibition for the Museum of Modern Art.

Miller served as president of Magnum from 1962 to 1968, and in 1970, he joined the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, where he served as the director of its environmental center.

He spent the final three decades of his life retired from photography, working to protect California forests.

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

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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