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Tuesday, 18 January 2011


Just curious. Are there any "great rightist" photographers?

Life often zooms by so fast, we miss out on learning of talent like Milton Rogovin before it's gone forever. I'm saddened that I didn't learn of him sooner.

May we all live such a long and "upright" life.

Thank you, Mike, for this late introduction to a remarkable man.


Interesting to see this and sad to see him go. The Milwaukee Art Museum was on the Rogovin train early, as I remember seeing a show of his there some time ago; loved every bit of it.

What's interesting to me is that in reality, Rogovin is the great leftist optometrist, who happened to be a photographer on the side. I love the fact that he was also a proponent of the 120 twin-lens. One camera, one lens! Much like Vivian Maier.

Although Rogovin practiced a social philosophy when photographing the people he loved in his neighborhood, and Maier seemed to be working from a pure design philosophy; one wonders what would have happened if someone with "the power" in accepted art circles would have "discovered" Maier prior to her death, much like what happened to Rogovin, as from what I can remember of his bio (my mind needs a jolt), I'm pretty sure he was not promoting himself as a photographic "artist" or anything like that either.

BTW "The Forgotten Ones" also belongs in every photographers bookcase. It's good to look back and see what can be done with simple equipment and a mission!

"Are there any 'great rightist' photographers?"

Leni Riefenstahl. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leni_Riefenstahl


He purposely reached out to others and shared.

Unlike today, when you have people perpetually clamoring to keep more for themselves at the expense of those who have less.

I had the privilege to meet Milton Rogovin last June, and was touched by his gentle, warm engaging manner. He was kind enough to allow me to make a portrait of him at the weekly peace rally, and is viewable here:
His work inspires...

Thank you very much, Mike.
Here in Brazil nobody did notice his passing!

Wonderful photography, yet I feel so uncomfortable viewing it. The cynic within me just sees exploitation. The overwhelming emotion/ thought is that I'm grateful that I'm not one of those people, and how would I feel if I was Milton's subject knowing that viewers were thinking what I thought and felt, if I was even aware of it.

You've missed the point of Milton's work. One of the ways he's always formulated it is that the rich have their own portrait photographers, who they pay (earlier in the 20th century perhaps more than now, regular portraitizing of self and family was a conventional marker of wealth status--my great-grandmother had a portrait photographer come by every summer to do copious numbers of large-format portraits of every combination of family members). Milton merely observed that poor people seldom get to have nice portraits of themselves. He gives his pictures to his subjects. They are gifts, first and foremost. His feeling is simply that everyone deserves to be memorialized, not just the people who can pay to have it done.

He isn't the only one to react to this situation. Doris Ulmann (1882-1934), who made her living as a high society portrait photographer in NYC, regularly traveled to Appalachia to make portraits of people who couldn't afford to have their portraits made.

I suggest you look deeper into Milton's work before you dismiss it. I'm very sensitive to exploitative work (cf. my writings on Avedon), and I don't think Milton's is at all.


My thoughts run congruently with Stan B's comment. Today, as photography's role becomes more self-promotional than ever, I suspect that few young people will be able to connect with Milton's work at anything deeper than the most superficial visual level. But hopefully a few will one day realize that even the most modest camera can serve higher purposes.

Another quiet giant of "The Greatest Generation" is gone.

Ya done good, Milton.

If there is a heaven, Milton deserves a place in it for revealing the great dignity in ordinary people.

Dear Mike,

I have a similar take to you, vis your comment to Player.

I read Milton's work in the same way I saw Bruce Davidson's "East 100th Street" project, which was also indisputably* about giving a measure of respect and honor to subjects who normally didn't get (nor expect to get) any.

But... Player's reaction is also explicable. With the passage of time, much more such work has appeared. If you showed a group (who didn't know the work's history) some of Bruce's photos today without explanation, I'm sure you would have debate over whether the photos were exploitive or supportive. Not because there's any factual question, but because the purely visual, without context, has a certain degree of social ambiguity.

Allowing a bit of subject drift, Avedon doesn't push my buttons, but I hate Arbus's work on a visceral level. It's all "laughing at" rather than "laughing with." It's not documentary, not revelatory- it's just vicious: let's all go throw rocks at the freaks.

pax / Ctein

(* not an opinion-- supported unequivocally by statements from the subjects as well as the photographer )

Mike, I did consider Milton's assertion that "rich people have their own photographers," but then I imagined these well-to-do folks dressed in finery posing in flattering environments with perfect lighting. Milton's subjects seemed to have not been extended the option of cleaning themselves up, and further, I supposed, it would have frowned upon by the artist. I could imagine one of the subjects asking the photographer if he could put on nice shirt or comb his hair to which Milton said something like "that's not necessary," or "you look great the way you are."

I appreciate your reply because these photographs truly troubled me. I disliked myself for the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing. I was afraid I was being terribly unfair yet I couldn't deny what I was feeling. The glass half-full side is that I was deeply touched by Mr. Rogovin's photography, and I don't know if there's much more an artist could accomplish.

I first saw Milton's work in the 60's and was immediately struck by it. Now of course I wish I had the money (or foresight) to buy his book, or anything of his when it was first available. Yes Milton had travails in his life and yes they moved his life into unexpected directions. Milton saw people, liked them and took their photographs. He was blessed with long life and the most wonderful of lifelong companions.

As I read the occasional attempt to ascribe ones own political thoughts onto his work I am reminded of the attempts by "experts" over the years to apply their own beliefs about composition, subject placement, lighting and art to his images, which of course don't fit into their narrow view. He just saw people, liked them and took their pictures...as simple and as difficult as that. "Proper" photographic skills may have changed his images...but not much. The people are the image. His political views might also have changed his images but again not much. His feelings for people are what drove him.

Not to beat this to death (meaning I probably will) but I have to admit that my viewpoint was tainted even before I viewed the photographs. Learning that Milton was a "leftist" prompted me to look for examples of a so-called "chosen one" exploiting the forgotten ones behind the guise of social justice. With that prism in place it wasn't difficult to make the leap.

Hey Mike!

...can't mention Doris Ulmann without a few words about her book collaboration with Julia Peterkin: "Roll, Jordan Roll", a book that takes a somewhat romantic and, through her photographs, beautiful look at the Gullah Coast black communities of South Carolina. The photogravure process, as well as the pictorialist style, render the pictures truly impressive. Even the reproductions I've seen (and that's all I've seen), are striking!

Much like some of the posts here, this book also remains a hotbed of controversy, pitting modern day revisionistas saying it's nothing more than a romantic view of the Gullah Coasters by "whitey" not understanding anything about the culture; against those who think it's an important look at the people in the times. Not a lot of time to go into it on this post, but google Gullah Coast for those who don't know, and you'll see why this area is important to the black community.

Good luck finding one, they were supposed to be an edition in the 300's, which most agree was never completed, so no one really knows how many there were. They were "state-of-the-art" for book publishing at the time, finished in high-quality leather and signed and numbered by author and photographer. Estimates range in the $15,000 to $20,000 dollar mark, if you could even find one! I have media pals that semi-retired to the South Carolina coast, and this book has become the "Holy Grail" for them, and the focus of every old plantation and estate sale in the area!

Player, Mike...you might be interested in hearing Miltons own voice talk about how he made the photographs, what they wore, how they looked and the reason he made the pictures. Gerry


It's too bad it took this man's passing to make news about his work. I'd never heard of this fellow before now but looking at his work makes me sad I didn't get on it sooner. It's great no nonsense work, very honest looking. He was one of the many hidden treasures of Buffalo.

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