Wayne Miller, Photographer of War and Peace, Dies at 94
Published: May 25, 2013
Joan B. Miller
His death was confirmed by his granddaughter Inga Miller Gilbert.
Mr. Miller, the Chicago-born son of a doctor and a nurse, was given a camera as a high school graduation present and a few years later enrolled in art school. Quickly determining that it did not suit him, he joined the Navy, and that, perhaps surprisingly, was where he got his first real chance to do what he wanted to do: “to photograph mankind,” he once put it, “and explain man to man.”
Mr. Miller was one of a half-dozen photographers asked by the photographer and curator Edward Steichen to join a special Navy photography unit he had formed during World War II. Mr. Miller traveled the world in his new role, capturing American soldiers in battle from the Philippines to the south of France, hopscotching his way through combat zones with rare freedom for a soldier.
He was among the first Americans to photograph Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945. One of his best-known images is of a wounded airman being pulled from a damaged plane. Mr. Miller had been scheduled to be on that plane; a photographer who had asked to replace him was killed.
After the war, Mr. Miller returned to Chicago, where, living on grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, he spent three years photographing black life on the city’s South Side in the wake of the Great Migration of blacks from the South. He photographed construction workers, families living in shanties, a little girl on crutches. He did not treat his subjects as art objects; he identified them, if not by name then by their job or task or where they lived. The project was formally titled “The Way of Life of the Northern Negro.”
“His pictures have none of that title’s polite anthropological squeamishness,” the critic Margo Jefferson wrote in 2001 in The New York Times about “Chicago’s South Side: 1946-1948,” a book by Mr. Miller published in 2000 that featured images from the project.
“Miller’s work is intimate but never presumptuous; each black-and-white image retains its mystery,” Ms. Jefferson wrote. “You realize there is more to know about this community than a camera’s eye — or ours — can find. It is part of his gift that he knows this, too.”
Mr. Steichen recruited Mr. Miller again in the early 1950s to help him organize an ambitious exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, “The Family of Man.” That show, which included more than 500 photographs taken by more than 250 photographers in 68 countries, was intended, as Carl Sandburg wrote in a prologue to a book of the same name, to portray “one big family hugging close to the ball of Earth for its life and being.”
The exhibition, and the book published shortly afterward, included a series of pictures that Mr. Miller had made showing his wife, Joan, in labor, then giving birth, then nursing their son David. The doctor delivering David is Mr. Miller’s father, who had given him that first camera.
Wayne Forest Miller was born on Sept. 19, 1918. He studied banking at what is now the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and later enrolled at the Art Institute of Los Angeles.
Mr. Miller worked as a freelance photographer for Life, Ebony, National Geographic and other publications for many years. He also took pictures for “A Baby’s First Year,” by Dr. Benjamin Spock and John B. Reinhart. In 1958 he published “The World Is Young,” which captured the lives of his four children growing up in Orinda. From 1962 to 1968 he was president of the Magnum Photos collective.
In addition to his granddaughter Ms. Gilbert, his survivors include his wife of 70 years, the former Joan Baker; four children, Jeanette, David, Peter and Dana Blencowe; eight other grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
Mr. Miller largely stopped working as a professional photographer in the 1970s and took up the cause of protecting ancient redwood forests in Northern California. He replanted many acres of trees on his own land and helped found Forest Landowners of California, which successfully lobbied for changes to state laws to encourage forest preservation.