Little Neck’s Dan Miller has had an interesting life, and he has the pictures to prove it.
He took photos for the U.S. Army during World War II, worked a stint at the iconic Look magazine, photographed Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy — and Saturday he turned 90 years old.
“People ask me what it feels like to be 90,” Miller said to about 30 friends and family members gathered at a neighborhood French restaurant on Northern Boulevard called La Baraka. “For one thing, 90-year-olds think of the past more than they do the future.”
Luckily, Miller has ample evidence of his.
A slideshow depicting moments throughout Miller’s life showed him as a boy in the Bronx, where he was born in 1922. He purchased his first camera using cereal box coupons, a self-enterprising move that set a precedent for the long life ahead of him.
He was practically attached to the camera. Although he could not pinpoint why, he always felt the need to document, to commit moments to print.
“I’ve taken pictures ever since I was able to walk,” Miller said at his birthday party. “I carried a camera wherever I went.”
But that camera also carried him places.
Miller started his career freelancing for New York area newspapers like The Villager and the Parkchester Press. He took photos for the federal government before enlisting in the Army during World War II.
He was stationed in New Delhi and would sometimes point his lens down from the belly of a B-52 bomber to document potential targets on the ground.
He struck up a friendship with a fellow soldier named Arthur Rothstein, who happened to be the photo editor for Look magazine back home.
When the two returned stateside, Rothstein offered Miller a job.
Miller worked for Look for a few years, shooting and developing photos in the darkroom — notably for future director Stanley Kubrick.
But a few years later he left Look, got married and had kids. He built a darkroom in the basement of his New Hyde Park home, which is where he began his own business, taking photos for unions throughout the city and sometimes going on news assignments and snapping celebrities, or even astronauts like John Glenn.
He eventually moved to Bellerose, and then to Little Neck.
Even at 90, Miller has the look and energy of a much younger man. He still works two days a week at the photography business he runs with his two sons Jack and Steve. His daughter, Maddy, has already retired from her position as photo editor of People magazine.
Photography runs in Miller’s blood, which might be why he has had little trouble adopting to the digital age.
“I had to,” he shrugged, as if it were obvious that he would do whatever it took to keep snapping.
His presence at the restaurant was in some ways astonishing. Miller has had quadruple bypass surgery. He successfully fought off throat cancer and kicked pneumonia.
As he listed off the number of life-threatening illness he has faced, he ended each episode with the phrase “So I got rid of that.”
His wife Judy, who he married after the death of his first wife in the 1980s, calls Miller “the healer.”
He was served a slice of chocolate cake with a single burning candle in it.
Ignoring the urging of family members to quickly blow it out, Miller stared, contemplating the flame, no doubt sifting through the rolls and rolls of images he has acquired over nearly a century.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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