Photographer Wayne F. Miller, who helped revolutionize documentary photography and lead the movement to renew California’s forests, died today, May 22, 2013 at age 94.
Mr. Miller, born in Chicago, Illinois in 1918, began his career over the Pacific, shooting photographs of the Pacific combat theater during World War II, having been hand selected by Capt. Edward Steichen for his elite naval combat photographic unit that documented the war effort.
One of Mr. Miller’s most recognized photographs from the war shows a wounded pilot being pulled from his fighter plane. By tragic coincidence, Mr. Miller had been scheduled for the flight and the photographer who had taken his place was shot and killed while documenting the firefight. While Mr. Miller’s war photography documented soldiers both at ease and in combat, tragedy dominated.
Mr. Miller was one of the first to arrive at Hiroshima to document the devastation left by the atomic blast. Mr. Miller throughout his life kept a piece of the rubble, a Japanese teacup into which glass had melted, at the doorway to his darkroom as a memorial.
After the war, Mr. Miller celebrated life by finding it on Chicago’s South Side. The predominantly African American community settled partly by former sharecroppers from Mississippi and Georgia invited Mr. Miller into their homes and their lives. The Guggenheim Foundation awarded him two fellowships to photograph the community between 1946 and 1948. While these photographs included celebrities like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Eartha Kitt in their early careers, most of the photographs were of ordinary people in ordinary settings.
He then picked up his growing family and with his wife, Joan, moved west to California on the encouragement of fellow documentary photographer Dorothea Lange. Mr. Miller and Joan settled in Orinda, California, and Mr. Miller’s Orinda studio became a gathering spot for iconic photographers of the day, including Lange and Steichen.
Mr. Miller and Steichen worked together until Steichen’s death in 1973, also at the age of 94. Steichen, and Mr. Miller as his assistant, embarked on the Family of Man project in 1953, a collection of images of humanity from around the globe, in response to World War II. Steichen, then the curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, sought a photographic representation of the similarities among people. They sorted through nearly 2 million photographs before selecting 503 images from 273 photographers in 68 countries. The exhibit opened in the Museum of Modern Art in 1955 and traveled the world. The exhibit was turned into a book by the same name and has sold 4 million copies.
The exhibit and book included several personal pictures by Mr. Miller, including a portrait of his daughter, Jeanette, and an image of the birth of his son David being delivered by Mr. Miller’s father. The image, features a towering umbilical cord as the surgeon grandfather lifted the newborn upside down by the leg.
For the next several decades, Mr. Miller traveled for Life Magazine, Ebony, News Week, Saturday Evening Post, National Geographic, and other magazines of the time. Other projects included a collaboration with Dr. Benjamin Spock and John B. Reinhart on the book “A Baby’s First Year” and Mr. Miller’s own book, “The World is Young.”
In the mid-1970’s, Mr. Miller retired the camera professionally to pursue a passion for California’s redwood forests. Mr. Miller and Joan themselves owned a small patch of forest land in Mendocino County they had bought when nearly bare, clear-cut land and had watched the trees regenerate with their stewardship. As a landowner, Mr. Miller became aware of tax laws that encouraged clear cutting. In response, he spearheaded an effort to eliminate those laws and regulations that inadvertently penalized forest owners for keeping trees as a founding member of the Forest Landowners of California. The group’s work resulted in major changes that led to creation of sustainable regulations for forest management for California forest land that remain in place today. Mr. Miller’s own forest land continues to serve as an example of sustainable logging practices.
Among the only photographs Mr. Miller made after his retirement were those documenting the growth of his redwood forest. He had photographed his wife, Joan, standing on the clear cut property in 1958 surrounded by large stretches of bare soil, eroded slopes, and scattered remaining trees. In 1998, Joan stood in the same spot with a continuous, verdant redwood forest in the background. Mr. Miller is also survived by his four children, Jeanette Miller, David Miller, Dana Blencowe, and Peter Miller, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild with another on the way.
- Further press contacts are available regarding Mr. Miller’s forestry work from Craig Blencowe.
- Magnum Bio: http://www.magnumphotos.com/Archive/C.aspx?VP=XSpecific_MAG.Biography_VPage&AID=2K7O3R131HKN
- Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayne_F._Miller
- Mr. Miller was a member of Magnum Photos and president from 1962-1966.
- Mr. Miller was a longtime member of the American Society of Magazine Photographers and named chairman in 1954.
- The above described photograph of David continues to circulate in space on the satellite the Voyager I after having been selected by Carl Sagen.
- In the mid-1960s, Mr. Miller and Joan moved to Washington D.C. to work with the Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall. Mr. Miller worked in the US Park Service to develop environmental awareness programs.
- 1967-1970 Spec. Ass’t to the Director, National Park Service, Washington, D.C. Receives Department of Interior “Award for Meritorious Service” for developing environmental education programs.
- 1972 Yosemite Institute, Founding Board Member.
- In 1970 he joined the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as executive director of the Public Broadcasting Environmental Center.
- 1975 Joan and Wayne Miller named “California Tree Farmers of the Year.”
- 1975 Founding President, Forest Landowners of California
- 1985 Elected a Member, Society of American Foresters
- 1987-1989 President of the Redwood Region Conservation Council
- 1996 ASMP Photojournalism Award
- 1999 Japanese edition of World Is Young published by Fukuinkan Shoten
- 2000 Chicago’s South Side, Published by University of California Press with essay by Gordon Parks
- Honor Award for Distinguished Services in Journalism, University of Missouri, September 22, 2000.