The Picture Man: The Photographs of Milton Rogovin,
on exhibit at the ArtRage Gallery, views Rogovin’s long career from
several angles. The exhibition samples a huge portfolio of images taken
over a 50-year period. It highlights various Rogovin projects executed
in inner-city Buffalo, in steel mills and in mines located in the
United States, China, Chile and other nations. And the show explores
more than Rogovin’s images. On Thursday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m., ArtRage
will screen The Rich Have Their Own Photographers, a full-length documentary about Rogovin’s work and life.
In the exhibition and in books
presenting Rogovin’s images, several themes predominate. He’s intensely
interested in everyday people and in seemingly commonplace scenes. He
structured an entire series around photos of Buffalo residents in
doorways and on sidewalks, creating sharp, expressive images of people
in their neighborhood. He photographed three men playing dominoes, a
woman holding a baby and standing near a storefront church’s doorway,
two young girls near a decrepit building. Seen through Rogovin’s lens,
these scenes are far from mundane.
Another series, seen partially at
ArtRage, focused on Buffalo steelworkers on the job and at home. Thus,
a shot of a worker at the plant, bare-chested, muscular and gripping a
yard-long tool, is paired with an image showing the man with his
family. Another set of images portrays a worker in two contexts, in the
plant resting by a vending machine after an arduous day, on a lawn by
his house. There he stands by his wife and holds their dog.
These images communicate one of
Rogovin’s core beliefs: Ordinary people’s lives are significant and
worthy. In the “Buffalo quartets,” often considered his signature
project, he took that approach one step further, shooting subjects at
intervals of eight, nine and 10 years. At ArtRage, the Edwin Santiago
Quartet portrays him as a pre-teen, young adult, in his early 30s, as a
parent with teenage sons. A text, consisting of Santiago’s own words,
discusses highs, like his relationship with his children; lows, like
spending three years in prison; and striking a balance in his life. He
did not return to jail; he concentrated on work and family.
In addition to accessing Rogovin’s
bodies of work, the ArtRage exhibit displays individual images bound to
stand out in any context. They include photos of a Mexican man who
holds two candles and marches in a funeral procession, of an Iroquois
woman holding corn husk dolls, of a preacher full of the spirit and
communicating with the congregation. There’s also a photo of a Chilean
mother and child in front of a wall. The image, a well-known photo,
both captures the maternal bond and depicts peeling paint on the wall.
Finally, the show illustrates two
essential tenets of Rogovin’s work: his directness and his
“photographer’s instinct.” First, he saw no need to photograph subjects
in a studio or to manipulate images. Rogovin was happy to shoot a
tinsmith in his shop or a female miner near a mine’s entrance,
confident in his ability to document each scene. Second, like other
skilled photographers, Rogovin has an innate ability to size up a scene
and capture a moment. It’s very difficult to define that instinct.
Nonetheless, it’s real and tangible.
This month, ArtRage is also displaying
poems and photographs created by students from three Central New York
schools: Nottingham High School, Emerson Dillon Middle School in
Phoenix and John C. Birdlebough High School, also in Phoenix. Their
work includes poems interpreting Rogovin’s images and photos depicting
local scenes: a man sitting on steps, a gravesite and people in a café,
among other images. Partners for Arts Education sponsored the
appearance of those works.
The Picture Man and the students’
works are on display at ArtRage, 505 Hawley Ave., through Dec. 19. The
gallery is open Thursdays and Fridays, 2 to 7 p.m., and Saturdays, noon
to 4 p.m. For more information, call 218-5711.