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Vaughn Wallace

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Vaughn Wallace

To photograph mankind and explain man to man — that was how legendary photographer Wayne Miller described his decades-long drive to document the myriad subjects gracing his work. Miller passed away Wednesday at the age of 94 at his home in California.

Rene Burri—Magnum

Rene Burri—Magnum

Wayne Miller in 2001

Miller began pursuing photography while attending college at the University of Illinois, Urbana, shooting for the school’s yearbook. Following a two-year stint at the Art Center School of Los Angeles, Miller started working as a photographer for the U.S. Navy, serving in the Pacific Theater under Edward Steichen’s Naval Aviation Unit.

“We had Navy orders that allowed us to go any place we wanted to go and, when we got done, to go home,” Miller said in an interview with the American Society of Media Photographers. “It was fantastic.”

Miller’s reportage-style images of life and death aboard U.S. aircraft carriers provide a visual narrative for a field of battle largely unknown to the American public. Miller’s war-time photographs illustrate the tension and tragedy of bloodshed and destruction underneath the beautiful skies and billowing white clouds of the South Pacific.

And after Japan capitulated in September 1945, Miller was one of the first photographers to enter Hiroshima, documenting the unimaginable effects of the 20-kilton atomic bomb detonated over the city the previous month. Miller photographed victims suffering from acute radiation poisoning and severe shock in the ruins of a city reduced to rubble in one great flash.

Miller received two grants from the Guggenheim Foundation to photograph his next major project, a documentary look at the streets of Chicago’s South Side, his hometown. Shooting between 1946 and 1948, his work — a mix of portraits and environmental scenes — broke convictions for its look at the black communities living and working in postwar Chicago.

USA. Illinois. Chicago. 1948. An alley between overcrowded tenements, with garbage thrown over the railings of the back porches. Most of the area's tenants were transient.

Wayne Miller—Magnum

An alley between overcrowded tenements, with garbage thrown over the railings of the back porches. Most of the area's tenants were transient. Chicago, 1948.

“Up until that time, these [photographs] were considered snapshots by the public and by the commercial world,” he told ASMP. The visual weight of his work didn’t go unnoticed — the hope, worry, excitement, struggle and leisure pictured in ‘The Ways of Life of the Northern Negro’ remains striking even to modern viewers today.

After his Chicago body of work, Miller went on to work as a photographer for LIFE until 1953. He began collaborating with his old boss, Steichen, on a new project called the “Family of Man” — an ambitious look at the commonalities among humans around the world through the work of 273 photographers (including Miller). As an associate curator, Miller helped Steichen produce and organize the show’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1955. One of Miller’s photographs even graced the cover of LIFE that February.

Miller held the title of president of the prestigious Magnum photo agency from 1962-1968, leading the cooperative before beginning a career with the National Park Service and later, CBS. In the mid 1970s, Miller put down his camera to follow his passion for the environment, purchasing a small plot of redwood forest in Mendocino County. For the next several years, he worked to combat tax laws that favored clear cutting forests. He continued to push for sustainable practices through retirement.

Miller is survived by his wife Joan, four child, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild.

The film about Miller’s career, embedded above, is ‘The World is Young” by Theo Rigby, a photographer and filmmaker based in San Francisco.

Vaughn Wallace is the producer of LightBox. Follow him on Twitter @vaughnwallace.

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Original author: 
Vaughn Wallace

Presidential photographers are afforded access to their subjects that most journalists only dream of. Pete Souza, David Hume Kennerly, Eric Draper — all are well-known names in the photographic community for their day in, day out documentation of the White House. Part journalist, part historian and part public-relations agent, the president’s official photographer chronicles both the official and the private workings of some of the most public men in the world.

The beauty of the job is that the photographer — spending nearly every waking second with the Commander-in-Chief, photographing cabinet meetings, foreign trips and ‘off the record’ family events — needn’t decide whether a given moment is important: instead, the official photographer records everything, letting history ascribe significance to the people and instances locked away in the images of the presidential archive.

But what happens when that archive is destroyed? That’s precisely what happened to some 40,000 negatives of the Kennedy family made by Jacques Lowe. Hired two years before JFK entered office, Lowe was charged with documenting the Kennedy family. Just 28 years old when he started in 1958, Lowe chronicled Kennedy’s Senate re-election campaign, his first years as president and the family’s frequent breaks from the spotlight in Hyannis Port, Mass. and McLean, Va. His images strongly shaped and influenced the public perception of the era that would come to be known as Camelot.

“There are no words to describe how attached my father was to his Kennedy negatives,” writes Thomasina Lowe, Jacques’ daughter, in the introduction to Remembering Jack, a book published in 2003 on the 40th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. “They defined who he was as a person and as a photographer. Those images were priceless, their value beyond calculation. So he stored them in a fireproof bank vault in the World Trade Center.”

Estate of Jacques Lowe

Estate of Jacques Lowe

Jacques Lowe at work

Lowe’s original negatives were destroyed on September 11th, 2001, during the terror attacks on the World Trade Center. But miraculously, some 1,500 of Lowe’s contact sheets and prints from the Kennedy file escaped destruction, stored safely at another facility in New York City.

A new exhibition at the Newseum in Washington D.C. highlights 170 of the salvaged  images. Restoring them to recognition, however, was far from easy: a team of seven imaging specialists spent more than 600 hours diligently bringing to life iconic images from fading contact sheets, unpolished work prints and creased proofs.

Indira Williams Babic, the senior manager of visual resources at the museum, explained her team’s exhaustive process to TIME.

“There wasn’t anything first-generation that we could work off of,” she said. “We pored through around 40,000 images, give or take.” Pairing down the initial selection to around 1,000 images, Babic then sorted the photographs into smaller groups by content or location.

After this initial inventory, the Newseum’s design team began to figure out what the show would look like. These decisions dictated the specific restoration challenges ahead, e.g, if the design team wanted 60-inch prints from a 1-inch contact proof covered in pen markings and scratches.

“You know it’s going to be incredibly challenging,” Babic explains, “not to make it look artsy and beautiful, but the way it was supposed to look. We’re a news museum, so at the top of the list, we have to respect the photojournalist and his vision. We’ll make it big, make it beautiful, but make it real — that was the tough part.”

Many of the contact sheets were marked with scratches and printing notes. Babic points to the paradox of finding one of Lowe’s particularly-recognizable images amongst the thousands: the best photographs frequently had the worst damage. More often than not, the iconic frames on the contact sheets were covered with the photographer’s writing or surrounded by an excited scribbled circle. Every inch of stray pen mark could add numerous days to the restorationist’s workload.

Babic described the process as a dance — restoring the recognizable frames that the public expects from Lowe while also remaining realistic about what could be salvaged from the limited sizes of the original proofs.

And even after the team “restored” an image, the team often wasn’t satisfied. In some cases, they started the process over — even after hours of work — when the quality of restoration didn’t feel quite right. “You can click on white specks only so many times…but we didn’t give up,” Babic jokes.

 The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe,”  opening April 12.

Sarah Mercier—Newseum

A Newseum staff member installs a framed gallery print of John F. Kennedy in the exhibit, “Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe,” opening April 12.

Restoring from contact sheets also had this unique advantage: the images immediately surrounding the iconic frame often provided important historical details that the team could use as references. Rather than guessing about a detail that might have been obscured on a well-known image, the team was able to verify objects hidden beneath a scratch or a pen mark by comparing the picture to other, nearby frames.

Thus, more than a decade after the single most horrific and memorable day in modern American history, and just over 50 years after the short, legendary JFK presidency, important pictures that might have been lost to history have, in a sense, been pulled from the ashes.

Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe is on view at the Newseum in Washington D.C. from April 12 through January 5, 2014.

Vaughn Wallace is the producer of LightBox. Follow him on Twitter @vaughnwallace.

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There’s always something interesting about history—it’s often just a matter of knowing where to find it.

That’s the idea behind Shorpy.com, an eye-popping collection of historical imagery that casts a modern light on an astonishing array of photographs long-hidden in the Library of Congress archives. Named after a 12-year-old coal miner in a picture by the great Lewis Hine, Shorpy.com offers new, high-definition life to old images, restoring the often-breathtaking detail found in the original negatives: the uneven, rutted cobbles on a 1908 Philadelphia street, or the slight hint of alarm in the eye of a test pilot about to fly an aircraft in 1911.

In the last decade, the Library began digitizing specific sets of images in their 13-million-photo strong collection. Soon after, Dave Hall, the co-founder of Shorpy.com, began exploring their archives. Previously a Style editor at the Washington Post, Hall wasn’t especially interested in historical images until late one night, when he discovered several photographs of early 20th-century child laborers. Taken by Lewis Hine on an 8×10 view camera, Hall was amazed at the pictures’ clarity — sparkling with far more detail than a standard 35mm frame. Wondering why he had never before seen such strikingly detailed historical imagery, Hall took it upon himself to post the photos online, in high-resolution — an endeavor simplified by the LOC’s public-domain image rights.

That was in 2007. Now, six years later, Hall has worked his magic on more than 10,000 historic photographs, ranging from early tintypes of Native Americans to medium-format color slides of 1950′s suburbia. Hall mostly sources the site’s new images from the LOC’s raw high-resolution scans, then restores them to their original grandeur.

The physical reality of turn-of-the-century America — its machines, factories, tenements and faces — emerge as if unearthed from a time capsule. Quirky cultural artifacts that have always been with us — locked in photosensitive chemicals in the glass plates and nitrate negatives of the LOC’s Prints & Photographs Division — feel as new and, in many cases, as unexpected, as they were on the day they were shot.

But the primary value of Shorpy.com isn’t just found in the hundreds upon hundreds of restored images of Americana, trains, bathing contests, accidents, war ephemera, portraits of royalty, and the occasional sharecropper. It’s in the details that Hall has meticulously restored within each photograph that the true power of these pictures is found. Every image republished on Shorpy has been color corrected, toned, and sharpened — restoring the brilliant texture and jaw-dropping sharpness found in the original negatives and glass plates. These negatives have a tremendous amount of detail, Hall explains, but the Library of Congress’ scans often don’t reflect this. The details exist in the original negatives, but are frequently hidden in blown-out highlights and muddied shadows. So, with each image, Hall balances the exposure, correcting for the wear of time upon negatives that record a narrow but deep slice of American history.

Hall doesn’t modify the content of the images, either — all of his adjustments are carefully limited to the standards of which the original photographers would likely pursue. He is, in effect, a master digital restorer, working as a darkroom printer of the time period would have done while preparing the images for public exhibition.

Most — if not all — of these pictures have never before been displayed with such clarity, and certainly have never been enjoyed, by an audience as vast as the web. This is where Shorpy’s strength as a historical and cultural tool comes into its own. Images that were once considered only as objects of history are made immediate and relevant once again, in part because we’re able to see that life in the past isn’t quite as different from our world as we perhaps imagined it to be. Shorpy lets us see in detail the faces of the past — and they look, in essence, exactly like the faces we’d see today on any American street.

Perhaps even more amazing than the photos themselves, however, are the comments on the site, often made anonymously, that help to flesh out the huge story behind the photos — and, in a sense, behind the Library of Congress itself. Users of the site closely inspect the images, pointing out a range of details — everything from specific styles of clothing to the facial expressions of passersby reflected in store windows.

For history to be relevant, it has to not only be accessible, but detailed enough that it feels alive. By embracing the immeasurable value of America’s vast, public photo library, Shorpy has found an elegant way to engage a generation for whom, and on whom, the power and personality of history is often lost.

Vaughn Wallace is the producer of LightBox. Follow him on Twitter @vaughnwallace.

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