Milton Rogovin: Joseph Kemp, Hanna Furnace, Buffalo N.Y., 1978
All art is political, dripping with implicit or aggressive assumptions about what is right or wrong with the world. The very notion that someone would make something without obvious practical use is itself as political as an upraised fist.
Yet contemporary art that expresses an explicit political point of view is not thought by most art lovers to be top Christie’s material. There are well-known exceptions, to be sure; is it odd that women come more easily to mind? Martha Rosler, Kara Walker, Barbara Kruger … the list is not long, and the danger that fame defangs and coopts is ever-present.
Politics also consists of surprise in context. An otherwise ordinary photo of two men or two women kissing wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in a family album such as my husband’s and mine, but could raise the roof in certain countries — even parts of our own. We know too, from the recent, sad Smithsonian Frolics, that art can be used in political ways that the artist may never have intended.
Optometrist-turned-photographer Milton Rogovin died last month at the age of 101. He was a social activist, a Communist, “Top Red in Buffalo” according to the papers. His best photos, especially those in the 1962 series “Store Front Churches,” are as beautiful as any I can think of. Political. Beautiful.
You may read — or listen — to my appreciation of his life’s work in Obit Magazine. More photos and videos of the artist are on his elaborate family website.
Daylight magazine put together this slideshow with that same Obit voiceover (added 2/18).
Also, the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography has just now posted hundreds of Rogovin shots on its cumbersome but valuable site. You’ll have to register first in order to view them, but it’s certainly worth the trouble.
Milton Rogovin, 1960
Copyright Frederic Marschall
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