Remembering The Forgotten Ones: The Photographs of Milton Rogovin
Milton Rogovin (b. 1909) is one of this nation's most accomplished and important social documentary photographers, although until now he's remained virtually unknown to the public outside of his adopted hometown of Buffalo, New York. His last New York City exhibition, Lower West Side, was at the International Center of Photography in 1976. At the age of 93 Rogovin continues to document the neighborhoods of Buffalo with passion, artistry and commitment.
A collaboration with Sound Portraits Productions and the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, the exhibition combines prime examples of Rogovin's photographs of Buffalo over five decades with audio installations and artifacts. It is based in part on the retrospective Remembering the Forgotten Ones: Selections from the Milton Rogovin Collection recently mounted at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Buffalo State College from December 2002 through March 2003.
The exhibition is accompanied by a short documentary film, The Forgotten Ones, directed by Harvey Wang (which won the Best Documentary Short award at the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival), and a new book, Remembering The Forgotten Ones: The Photographs of Milton Rogovin (with Dave Isay, David Miller and Harvey Wang; published by Quantuck Lane Press in June, 2003).
Born on December 30, 1909 in New York City, Milton Rogovin moved to Buffalo in 1938 to practice as an optometrist. After organizing Buffalo's optometrists' union, he was called in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1958 and labeled "Buffalo's Top Red." Rogovin lost his optometry practice and decided to dedicate his life to photography. "My voice was essentially silenced," says Rogovin, "So I decided to speak out through photographs."
With the help of his wife, Anne, Rogovin began photographing Buffalo's storefront African-American churches (1958-1961). He then began a long-term project photographing working people—first in Buffalo and then around the world—supported by Anne's teaching salary and an occasional eye exam. In 1972, at the age of 63, Rogovin began focusing his lens on one of Buffalo's poorest communities: the Lower West Side, just a short distance from his optometric office. Over several decades, he shot several thousand portraits in this six-square-block neighborhood. It was to become his most important work. In 1984, Rogovin decided to return to the streets of the Lower West Side to search out and re-photograph as many of his original subjects as he could find. Eight years later, at the age of 83 and after overcoming heart surgery and prostate cancer, Rogovin returned once again to the neighborhood at Anne's behest, to track down his old subjects and shoot the third in his series of portraits.
In 1997, Rogovin developed severe cataracts in both eyes. He closed his darkroom and sold his camera. Frustrated at his inability to practice his craft, Rogovin decided to undergo surgery, and remarkably in 1999 his eyesight was restored. From December 2000 through December 2002, now in his 90s, Rogovin returned once more to the streets of the Lower West Side—with Anne and the staff of Sound Portraits Productions, who conducted oral histories with his subjects. These "quartets" with acoustiguide commentaries are a highlight of this landmark exhibition.
Sound Portraits Productions
A non-profit company based in New York City, Sound Portraits is one of the country's most acclaimed documentary production houses. Under the direction of MacArthur Fellow Dave Isay, its mission is to tell the stories of ordinary Americans with dignity, celebrating the power and poetry in their words. Sound Portraits has accomplished this goal primarily through the creation of dozens of award-winning radio programs broadcast on NPR's All Things Considered. Whether on the radio, in print, or on the Web, Sound Portraits is committed to producing innovative works of lasting educational, cultural, and artistic value. To hear Sound Portraits past radio programs, visit www.soundportraits.org.
Burchfield-Penney Art Center
The Burchfield-Penney Art Center (founded 1966) is a regional arts museum that serves as a significant cultural resources for Buffalo State College (of which it is a part), the total Western New York community, and the nation. The Burchfield-Penney collects, conserves, exhibits and interprets the achievements of distinguished artists who live or have lived in Western New York, most notably Charles E. Burchfield, to whom the museum is dedicated. For more information, please see www.burchfield-penney.org.
Remembering the Forgotten Ones: The Photographs of Milton Rogovin is made possible with generous support from the Balbach Family Foundation, Celsius Films Incorporated, The M&T Charitable Foundation, The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, Inc., The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, with in-kind support from WNYC. Collection and presentation of the oral histories are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the generous support of an anonymous donor. Programs at The New-York Historical Society are made possible in part with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. American Airlines is the official airline of The New-York Historical Society.
The High Falls Brewing Company, based in Rochester, NY, provided a product donation of Genesee Beer and Genny Light for the exhibition's opening reception on June 18—Genesee advertising clocks appear as background in some of Milton Rogovin's photography.