Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Milton Rogovin 1909 - 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 So to spread the feeling, here are some unpublished and unseen shots of Johnny from that day."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.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Morning Light

Long Meadow North. 2005. Photograph by Joseph O. Holmes.

Jan 17, according to a recent study, has been deemed the "most depressing day of the year". This finding by social psychologists was made by calculating how long it takes for us to break our New Year's resolutions, for the holiday bills to pile up, and the effect of the weather and the dark. Not surprisingly, January is also considered the most depressing month and according to my own highly unscientific study, this January in particular is dragging along at a much slower pace than most Januaries.

There are, however, a few metaphorical (as well as actual) bright clouds and one of them for me is walking my dog in the morning when Central Park is still blanketed with white snow and before the dirt of the city turns everything to grey slush. I try to time my walk so that I get into the park just as the sun is rising and this week with its pale blue morning skies and golden red sunrises has been particularly beautiful.

Add to this that after 11 years our semi-wild collie/lab/sheperd/chow mix has finally mellowed enough to be let off the leash and not take off for parts unknown and you get a morning walk that is at once serene, invigorating, and joyful. There's nothing quite like seeing a happy dog bounding through snow!

Another bright cloud is seeing a good show by a friend and I finally got the chance this week to catch up with Joseph Holmes current exhibition “The Urban Wilderness” at the Jen Bekman gallery in Soho. It’s up until January 23 so there’s still time to catch it.

Joe’s pictures were taken in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, not Central Park, but they convey the same magical feeling of the urban metropolis transformed into a wintery Eden. And they’re nearly all about dog walking! (As well as about light, and color, and composition.) Joe values may be old-fashioned – he’s someone looking to find the sublime or the memorable in the everyday – but his pictures have a nice contemporary feel due to their color and scale. And the show is a sure cure for those January blues!

Above and below from the current show:


And two brand new photographs from this December:

Long Meadow North No. 2

The White Oaks.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Weekend Video

Just saw Sofia Coppola's new movie "Somewhere". I loved it but I can fully understand how some people would find it aggravating. First, while the film is about connection (or the lack of), it's cast in a louche world of fame, privilege and indolence. Secondly, Coppola has a still photographic style that any one addicted action and fast cuts would have trouble sitting through. Coppola sets up the frame (beautifully), allows a scene to leisurely unfold, and then is on to the next wry vignette. What no-one could quibble with is Coppola's taste in music and how she uses it. All her movies have original song choices and I came out of this film stuck on the song "I'll Try Anything Once" by Julian Casablancas of The Strokes which is used as a something of a refrain throughout the film.

So here's the song (above) and the trailer (below). For readers of this blog (i.e. intelligent, visual, open-minded people) the film is a good bet!

Thursday, January 6, 2011


When I spoke about surprises in my recent Top Ten, I didn’t expect to be surprised so quickly and as dramatically as I was when I opened up an envelope from the Fraenkel Gallery to find a card with the image above on the cover announcing Katy Grannan’s new show (opening on Saturday in San Francisco). Do click on the image to see it in a larger size.

I’ve written admiringly about Katy Grannan before, but her new series, BOULEVARD, takes her work to a whole new level. As Fraenkel’s website describes the work, these pictures were made over the past three years in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Shooting against white stucco walls in strong midday light, the city streets became Grannan’s outdoor studio. The characters who populate Grannan’s Boulevards are a parade of down and outers and eccentrics – the lady above being (I think) an exception. But every picture is shot with mesmerizing intensity and shocking jolts of color.

What was most surprising to me, though, was that I normally HATE this type of photography. The passion for displaying photographs of low-lives and losers is so far from my aesthetic I can never understand how people could ever want to live with these kind of pictures. But to me Grannan’s photographs are about something else. First, they seem to belong more to the school of street observation in the tradition of Evans and Callahan and De Corcia than to the freak school of Arbus (who admittedly was a genius) and more recently Robert Bergman. Note how in Grannan’s pictures no-one is making direct eye contact with the camera. The subjects are aware they are being photographed, but they are more rooted in their own world and their own reality than the photographer's. Secondly, the color and light in these pictures is just extraordinary. It must have taken some technical expertise to get it just right. Lastly, there is a humanism in these pictures that makes them extraordinarily complex. Everyone seems to contain a story. Take the woman pictured above. Is she rich? Is she poor? Is she beautiful or ugly? Is she proud of her color co-ordination, her lipstick, her hair? Is her expression the result of a life well-lived or one of regrets? Whatever the answers, the pictures are masterpieces.

(FYI – there’s a wonderful large format catalog available for $45. Only 2000 were printed and they’ll probably sell out fast so hurry!)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Cautionary Tweet

Recently sent to me, this picture posted by Russell Brand on his Twitter page shows his wife, Katy Perry, waking up without a scrap of make-up. As you can see below, this is not Ms. Perry usual look. Apparently, she was less than pleased with the posting, as it was quickly deleted from Russell's Twitter page. But as most of us hopefully know, the internet is an unforgiving environment. Once posted, never forgotten.