Magnum Photos is sad to announce that Wayne Miller, member since 1958 and president of the collective from 1962-1966, died today at the age of 94.
Born in Chicago in 1918, Miller initially studied banking and only worked part-time as a photographer, but he eventually attended the Art Center School of Los Angeles, and in 1946-48 he won consecutive Guggenheim fellowships for photography. During the Second World War, Miller was a member of Edward Steichen's U.S. Navy Combat Photo Unit, and once back stateside, he worked as an associate curator on Steichen’s world famous exhibition, “The Family of Man.” Often turning the lens on his own family, Miller’s poignant visual explorations of American baby boomers and their lives made him one of the leading documentarians of his generation.
But, arguably, his career defining work was made on Chicago's South Side, where he covered the social, cultural and economic manifestations of the greatest internal migration in American history that saw thousands of black American families arriving in Chicago on a weekly basis. His photos of these communities in flux are seminal images of American history, each one freighted with the context of what it was to be black in postwar Chicago.
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. Miller called them "universal truths," and it was his hope that if he could use his camera to reveal those truths, we might achieve a greater understanding of ourselves and each other.
When asked of his artistic ambition, Miller once said “to photograph mankind and explain man to man.” He certainly did both, and did so at the absolute highest level. He is survived by his wife, Joan, his four children, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Message from Alex Majoli, President of Magnum Photos
“The first time I met Wayne Miller I was surprised to see a white man. Having known his legendary pictures of the Southside of Chicago for so long, I had always imagined the man to be black. He paved the ground for the rest of us who tried to depict the streets, the real life. He was a pioneer. Only recently, I learned that he served in the navy as a photographer in WWII, and then a contract photographer for LIFE. It might have seemed like golden years for photographers now, but he had to invent himself in many ways, a character trait I highly appreciate in people. With the utmost respect and great sorrow I have to say goodbye to a master I was so fortunate to meet, even if it was only on a few occasions.”