The photographer Milton Rogovin has been likened to the great social documentary photographers of the 19th and 20th centuries, Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis. An exhibition of the 96-year-old photographer’s works will be on view at the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona (“the Center”) in Tucson from August 18 to October 1, 2006. Rogovin’s work speaks of the humanity of working people, the poor, and society’s “forgotten ones.”
In the last year, the Center received approximately 340 Rogovin prints; these include gifts and promised gifts of 11 donors and the Rogovin family. These works will form the beginning of the Rogovin Collection at the Center, which will house more holdings of works and archival documents by the photographer than any other institution.
Rogovin started a career as an optometrist in Buffalo, New York, after military service during World War II. He was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952, and, after refusing to testify, was dubbed "Buffalo's Number One Communist" by the local newspaper. The persecution that followed significantly impacted his business. His political voice silenced, Rogovin turned to photography as a way to speak about social inequities. In 1958, he picked up his camera and began to a forty-year project to capture images that communicated his deep desire for a more just and equal society.
To mark the establishment of the Rogovin Collection, the Center will publish Milton Rogovin: The Making of A Social Documentary Photographer, by author Melanie Herzog, which features Rogovin’s own narrative of his development and life as a documentary photographer, amplified by an account of the historical events and circumstances that shaped his politics and social consciousness. It considers his major photographic series and offers critical discussion of examples of work spanning his lengthy photographic career. The publication functions as the exhibition catalogue and is published in partnership with the University of Washington Press.
“Milton Rogovin is one of the still undiscovered figures in American documentary photography,” observes Center director Douglas R. Nickel. “Although his seemingly straightforward approach allows his subject to take precedence over his own artistry, Rogovin has an eye for telling detail and sympathetic observation matched by very few in the history of photography.”
Rogovin’s first photographic series, made over the course of three years in Buffalo’s African-American storefront churches, was published in Aperture magazine in 1962. At the invitation of Pablo Neruda he spent several weeks working in Chile in 1967. He went on to photograph miners in Appalachia, steelworkers in Buffalo, working and poor people of Buffalo’s Lower West Side—in a series that spans more than thirty years, and miners in Scotland, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Mexico, France, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Germany, and China. He conceives his work as series, for, in his view, what is conveyed in multiple photographs is essential to the documentary nature of his work. His emphasis is people, all of whom are aware of the presence of the photographer; details of their surroundings disclose the social and economic conditions of their lives.