Milton Rogovin 1909 - 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Milton Rogovin passed away this week at the surprising age of 101. I was lucky enough to represent Milton and put on two shows of his work and over the last few years I wrote about him a number of times on this blog. Re-reading what I wrote, I hope that much of it bears repeating.

"Sometimes life gets in the way of the art. This is one of the few plausible explanations of why Milton Rogovin is not more widely know or celebrated than he is. I have been lucky enough to represent Milton’s work for the last few years and I hope you’ll check out all the pictures on the Danziger Projects website. (Click here to view.) Hopefully you’ll see why he’s such a photographer’s photographer – a particular favorite of Alec Soth and Tanyth Berkeley amongst many others.

Rogovin’s pictures consist almost entirely of portraits of workers and the working class. His prints are nearly all a modest 8 x 10 inches – a size that suits his commitment to activism above art world recognition and his dedication to social issues, most notably the plight of the miners around the world; the decline of the American steel industry, and the struggle of the working people of his home town of Buffalo, New York.

Deceptively straightforward, Rogovin’s photographs reveal a personal style that up-ends the usual balance between a great photographer and the subject. While most masters of photography wittingly dominate the picture, in Rogovin's work the subject commands equal strength. The photographic style is deadpan. The camera simply provides a stage for his subjects to present themselves as they see fit. Rogovin trusts them and their ability to present themselves as the unique individuals they are. Whether because of his respect and empathy for his sitters or the sincerity of his humanism and politics, this seemingly simple concept re-addresses the delicate balance of power between the observer and the observed.

My favorite example of this is his 1973 picture of Lower West Siders Johnny Lee Wines and Zeke Johnson. "It's a picture of pure happiness" said one viewer. So to spread the feeling, here are some unpublished and unseen shots of Johnny from that day."

They seem to me as fitting a tribute today as ever.


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