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The photographs of Wayne Miller born in 1918 in Chicago, almost like a diary of the Afro-Americans who lived sixty years ago in the south of Chicago, in “suburbs”.

In this period where mainly the suffering of transformation from the agriculture to the industry was experienced, the silhouette of the city also started to change with the improvement of industry; new immigrant districts, factory chimneys, steel towers, herds that were kept waiting at the doors of the city.

Evidencing the transformation of the Chicago city into an industrial metropolis with the economic growth after World War II, “Chicago’s South Side 1946-48” photograph series of Wayne Miller mainly witnessed intimate moments of the daily lives of “ordinary people” who produced this transformation.

USA. Illinois. Chicago. 1947. “Simple” was a character that Langston HUGHES used in his news column. Upon seeing the man in this photograph, HUGHES said: “That’s him.”

These historical photographs of Wayne Miller, different subjects take place; spanning from city views, to churches, to ceremonies, slaughterhouse workers, to the lowers in the taverns at night. The photographs in this series make us sense the taste of a love story for the city, a black and white film from the past to the present, which never grows old. On the other hand, the identities of black people who once again moved from their lands to meet the cheap working power demand of socio-economic system, did not change as producers only in terms of economics. The journey of former poor cotton workers who started traveling from the south of United States alongside the Mississippi River, ended by arrival the city.

Meanwhile  their traditional music experienced a significant transformation; the fat belly of blues bore jazz music. Among the historical records of Wayne Miller, also well known portraits of the period take place, such as; Paul Robeson, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Duke Ellington.

USA. Illinois. Chicago. 1948. American singer Ella FITZGERALD performing.

Wayne Miller belongs to a generation of photographers, who manage to make themselves invisible while documenting the living moment, who described the human naked and purified from the protection of the emotions, while forming an intimacy with their subject. “Chicago’s South Side 1946-48” photograph series of Wayne Miller places the system of the white capitalism, which is aiming its own profit-making, to the centre.

Although it imprisons the human to its own core, to profit based cities and the destructing places against its own nature, the photographs point out that the hope is still upheld. Incidentally, if everyone is responsible for everything, we have to say that the world still needs photographers like Wayne Miller.

Wayne Miller, is a real “artisan” as being one of the masters who produced everlasting world and who created the original language of documentary photography which mainly pursues understanding yesterday, interpreting today and producing  a document for tomorrow. It is obvious at this point that, documentary photography can not be built only on “language” and its main determining factor is “content”. Therefore the pieces of work of Wayne Miller, keep living more then a half century in the delta, where the river of craft meets with the ocean of art. How fortunate he is…


Text by Halûk Çobanoğlu, original published on İZ magazine No:18 2008 / 6
Photographs by Wayne Miller © Magnum Photos

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