For history professor, finding home for photo collection was a walk in the parkByDeva Woodly
The historic photographs of 20th-century photojournalist Wayne Miller have been given as a gift to the University’s Department of History, following what Amy Dru Stanley calls “a typical Hyde Park story.”
On a bright fall day in 2006, Stanley, Associate Professor in History and the College, was walking her Belgian shepherd along Kenwood Avenue, while from the opposite direction, Stephen Daiter, the owner of the respected Stephen Daiter Gallery, walked his young golden retriever.
The two puppies got along so well that Stanley and Daiter developed a morning routine to allow their dogs to play in the garden across from the Laboratory Schools at 58th Street and Kenwood Avenue.
During those mornings, Stanley remembers, “We began to chat about our work and it became clear that Daiter owned a gallery that would soon exhibit the photographs of Wayne Miller,” she said of the noted photojournalist, who captured images of pivotal moments in American life, from the funeral of Franklin D. Roosevelt to the destruction of Hiroshima in 1945.
Miller, who was born in 1918 and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, returned to his hometown of Chicago at the end of the war determined to use the camera to explore issues that unite, rather than divide, the human race. The vibrant Bronzeville community, the University’s South Side neighbor, provided a perfect opportunity to explore a culture that was nearby, yet completely unfamiliar to Miller. His hope was to approach his subjects and “look at the world through their eyes, to somehow capture their thoughts and feelings.” In 1946, Miller won a pair of prestigious Guggenheim fellowships, which he used to document the neighborhood.
In recent years, it had become important to Miller that his photographs of South Side life be permanently displayed where they could be appreciated. “It occurred to me,” said Stanley, “that the history department could be a wonderful place for them to be viewed.”
Faculty members in the Department of History have traditionally had a deep concern with African American history and that of the city’s South Side, having been the home of trail-blazing African American historian John Hope Franklin from 1964 until 1982.
The Miller collection gift was presented at a recent symposium, “Art Reflecting Life: Research, Realities and Reminiscences of Chicago’s South Side in the 1940s,” at the Office of Minority Student Affairs, where nearly 80 faculty, students and community members were on hand to celebrate the bequest.
Adam Green, Associate Professor in History and the keynote speaker at the celebratory symposium, describes the photographer’s work as examples of “humane witness,” giving the viewer a sense of the “human dignity” of the subjects, “even in the face of manifest inequity.” Miller’s photographs were unusual among others that documented the poor conditions of many African Americans who sought jobs and freedom during the Great Migration of black Americans from the South to the North.
When reflecting on the fortuitous series of events that led to the University receiving such an important historical documentation of life on the South Side, Stanley said, “It was an accidental meeting of two dogs in the neighborhood that turned into a meeting of the minds of a historian and a gallery owner who wanted to make sure that these photos would remain on permanent display, fulfilling a ground-breaking photographer’s dream.”Miller’s photographs will remain on permanent display at several locations around the University, including the John Hope Franklin Room in the Department of History.