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Wayne Miller; lens captured streets, battles

While serving in an Navy unit, Wayne Miller recorded the mundane and the tragic.

FILE 1943/WAYNE MILLER

While serving in an Navy unit, Wayne Miller recorded the mundane and the tragic.

ORINDA, Calif. — Photographer Wayne F. Miller, who created a ground-breaking series of portraits chronicling the lives of black Americans in Chicago after serving with an elite US Navy unit that produced some of the most indelible combat images of World War II, died Wednesday. He was 94.

Mr. Miller was also known for his work as a curator of an international photojournalism exhibition called ‘‘The Family of Man’’ and for contributing the photos to Dr. Benjamin Spock’s ‘‘A Baby’s First Year.’’ He had lived in Orinda for six decades and become ill only recently, his granddaughter Inga Miller said.

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Born in Chicago, Mr. Miller trained for a career in banking, but became a photographer when famed fashion photographer Edward Steichen picked him to be part of the military unit assigned to document the war. While assigned to the Pacific theater, Mr. Miller took some of the first pictures of Hiroshima after devastation from the first use of the atomic bomb.

His best-known wartime photograph shows a wounded pilot being pulled from a downed fighter plane. Mr. Miller had been scheduled to be aboard the plane before it was shot down, and the photographer who took his place was killed, said Inga Miller.

After returning to Chicago, Mr. Miller spent two years in the late 1940s on the city’s south side capturing the experiences of black residents, many of whom had moved north during the war in search of jobs and the promise of civil rights. The originals from his ‘‘The Way of the Northern Negro’’ series are held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution.

‘‘He was tired of what a good job photography was doing of showing the way we were destroying each other and he decided to come back and have the medium connect people in a more meaningful fashion,’’ said Paul Berlanga, director of Chicago’s Stephen Daitler Gallery. ‘‘He wanted to bring the white and black races together, and thought to make a photo documentary to introduce black Chicago to white Chicago and to white America.’’

During the early 1950s, Mr. Miller reunited with Steichen in putting together ‘‘The Family of Man,’’ a Museum of Modern Art exhibit featuring hundreds of portraits by photographers from all over the world. A book of the same name based on the exhibit sold more than 4 million copies.

A photograph of Mr. Miller’s that was part of the exhibit showed his son David being delivered as a baby by his grandfather. It was included in a phonographic time capsule Carl Sagan put together that was launched with the Voyager spacecraft in the late 1970s.

Mr. Miller also produced an intimate book of his photography called ‘‘The World is Young.’’

He spent several decades as a photojournalist for Life, Ebony, the Saturday Evening Post, and other magazines.

For six years, he was president of Magnum Photos, a photographer’s cooperative. Magnum’s current president, Alex Majoli, praised Mr. Miller as a pioneer who ‘‘paved the ground for the rest of us who tried to depict the streets, the real life.’’

Mr. Miller stopped working as a professional photographer in the mid-1970s, but he found a new passion crusading for the preservation of California’s redwood forests.

He and his wife, Joan, restored a clear-cut patch of forest and helped lobby for the passage of laws that provided incentives for landowners to protect rather than log trees. The forest became Mr. Miller’s main photographic subject after his retirement.

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