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August 23, 2022

Acquisition: 44 Photographs by Wayne Miller

Wayne Miller, "Railroad Passenger Car Maintenance Man. Air Hoses Were Used to Clean the Cars, Chicago, Illinois"

Wayne Miller
Railroad Passenger Car Maintenance Man. Air Hoses Were Used to Clean the Cars, Chicago, Illinois, 1947, printed later
gelatin silver print
image: 28 x 25.4 cm (11 x 10 in.)
sheet: 35.3 x 27.8 cm (13 7/8 x 10 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Wayne F. Miller Family
© Wayne F. Miller

The National Gallery of Art has been given 44 gelatin silver prints by the esteemed documentary photographer Wayne Miller (1918–2013). Given on behalf of his family and the artist’s estate, the group of photographs comprise a rich variety of themes central to his career. These are the first works by the artist to enter the collection and they deepen our holdings of documentary photography from the 1940s with compelling pictures that convey the horrific experience of war as well as the fullness of Black life in post-war Chicago.
Born in Chicago, Miller pursued studies in banking and business at the University of Illinois but turned his attention to photography in the early 1940s. He enlisted in the navy after the start of World War II as was assigned to the Naval Aviation Unit led by the famed photographer Edward Steichen (1879–1973). Miller documented the war mainly in the Pacific and was among the first Americans to take pictures of the devastation in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945. This experience convinced Miller of the importance of using photography to bring people together in meaningful ways. He returned to Chicago and spent two years photographing on the city’s South Side engaging with the vibrant African American community. Miller was awarded two consecutive Guggenheim Fellowships in support of his project which includes pictures of daily life, street scenes, and compelling pictures of workers, such as a railroad maintenance man. Captured in mid-stride as he carries air hoses used to clean passenger cars, the young man assertively returns the photographer’s gaze. Other works included in the gift are photographs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s funeral procession in Washington, DC, as well as intimate portraits of the photographer’s family.

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