PDN Photo of the Day

Milton Rogovin’s Work Life Balance

In Milton Rogovin’s handsome portraits, men and women are pictured at work and at home, wearing hard hats and stained aprons or surrounded by framed pictures and stuffed armchairs. A self-proclaimed social documentary photographer, Rogovin had a long-standing interest in the lives of the poor and working class. While working as optometrist in New York City, he began taking classes at the New York Workers School, run by the Communist Party, and reading the The Daily Worker. He also discovered the photographs of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine, and after the optometry business he started in Buffalo suffered when he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and refused to testify, Rogovin got deeply into making his own photographs. An exhibition of his work, “Life and Labor: The Photographs of Milton Rogovin” is on view at the San Jose Museum of Art until next spring. Drawn from the museum’s collection, the show presents a sympathetic and diverse picture of life in the 1970s and 80s for miners and steel workers, grocers and auto workers in Buffalo and around the U.S., and later around the world. By depicting the same subjects at their jobs and in their homes, Rogovin, who died in 2011, draws connections between what work demands and what it provides—difficult, dirty physical labor and camaraderie in exchange for the domestic comfort that supports family life. Whether he feels that exchange is fair is hard to tell from the images—instead, they relish the details of his subjects’ lives, and present their curious if slightly wary expressions. As Rogovin said in a 2003 interview, “All my life I’ve focused on the poor. The rich ones have their own photographers.”

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