Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Milton Rogovin

Milton Rogovin turns 100 years old on December 12. In 1957, Rogovin was an optometrist practicing in Buffalo, N.Y., more or less minding his own business and volunteering as the librarian for the local Communist Party, when he was called in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. He refused to testify, his family was outcast, and his practice fell apart.

Completely cut off from the world he knew, Rogovin turned to photography. He started at home, photographing poor and working class residents of Buffalo’s East Side, then traveled with his camera to document the downtrodden of China, Cuba, Czech, France, Germany, Mexico, Scotland, Spain, the United States, and Zimbabwe. In 1999, 1200 of Rogovin’s photographs were acquired by the Library of Congress. Here in Seattle, 40 of Rogovin's works were recently donated to the Henry Art Gallery collection, and a show of his work is currently being planned.

Rogovin, who still lives in Buffalo, was nominated to receive this year’s National Medal of Arts. In a statement accompanying the nomination, James Wood, the president of the Getty Trust, wrote that Mr. Rogovin has “created images that allowed us to see our fellow man with an intensity equal to that of Walker Evans or August Sander.” Photography historian Robert Hirsch conducted an in depth interview with Rogovin here.

A gala birthday celebration for Rogovin is planned for this Saturday at the WNED Studios, in Buffalo. Tickets to the birthday celebration are still available, and they are free. If you act fast, you can still R.S.V.P. for the party honoring this powerful artist and exceptional man.

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