Sometimes life gets in the way of the art. This is one of the few plausible explanations of why Milton Rogovin, who turns 100 today, 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 have put up a show that re-opens next week and runs through January 16. If you don’t get a chance to see it in person, 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.
This is not to say Rogovin is unknown. In 2007 he received ICP’s prestigious Cornell Capa Award and his work is in the collection of most major museums, but it would be fair to say he’s not a household name.
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.
Still healthy at 100 years old, Milton is celebrating his birthday with friends and family in Buffalo. So let’s salute an artist without artifice, a democrat of the darkroom.
Happy Birthday Milton!