ORINDA -- Wayne F. Miller, a documentary photographer whose powerful images of war, family and the denizens of Chicago's South Side have been admired by generations of photographers, died Wednesday at his Orinda home following a brief illness. He was 94.

A passionate forest conservationist in his later years, Miller's last moments were spent looking out beyond the large windows of his home at the oak trees he had nurtured since moving to Orinda in the early 1950s, said his granddaughter Inga Miller, an attorney who works in Walnut Creek and lives in Orinda.

"He remained interested throughout his life in conservation issues and bringing people to outdoor spaces," Miller said. "Photography was something he also remained interested in."

Photojournalist Wayne Miller has been gathering his lifes work from World War II, South Chicago, and Life magazine and giving it all to the Center for
Photojournalist Wayne Miller has been gathering his lifes work from World War II, South Chicago, and Life magazine and giving it all to the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. (Stephen Pringle/Staff Archives)

The art world, in turn, remained interested in Wayne Miller, who began his career making photos in the Pacific combat theater during World War II. His images are in the permanent collections of institutions including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Oakland Museum of California. His expertise was still sought by students, professionals and curators who admired his work, which includes his contributions to the groundbreaking "The Family of Man" photography exhibit and book.

"He's a legendary figure in the Bay Area and nationally. He was very generous and would come to classes and talk my students," said Ken Light, a UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism professor and documentary photographer.

That generosity is reflected in Miller's photography, which ranged from moving pictures of troops in battle taken while serving in an elite Naval combat photographic unit under photographer Edward Steichen, to the celebrated shots of Chicago's South Side made in the mid- to late 1940s of everyone from a young Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington to factory workers and pool players.

"His work is very humane. It's about people, their life," Light said. "There's really a sweetness, a genuine affection in the photographs with people he's interacting with."

Miller was born in Chicago in 1918. He initially worked part-time as a photographer before serving in the Navy, where he became one of the first to arrive at Hiroshima, Japan, and capture the aftermath of the atomic bomb dropped there.

After the war, Miller began his famed Chicago series and was awarded two Guggenheim Fellowship grants.

Following his move to Orinda, Miller worked with Steichen and joined the prestigious Magnum Photos agency, of which he was president from 1962 until 1968.

After traveling extensively for magazines such as Ebony and National Geographic, Miller turned his focus to preserving redwood forests and became a founding member of Forest Landowners of California. The photographs he made after his professional retirement documented that interest.

He is survived by his wife, Joan; four children; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. A public service will be held in September.