Milton Turns 100
You want to notice what goes on in the foreground of a Milton Rogovin photograph, along the bottom edge that a less attentive photographer might have cropped away and beneath the more obviously compelling faces in his portraits. There often runs the line that underlies the photograph's gravity or the detail that creates an echoing lyricism. In pretty much the first image you encounter at ArtRage Gallery's new exhibition of 49 of the Buffalo optometrist-photographer's work, we see a barefoot Mexican woman combing sheep's wool on a device that uses enormous nails. Light floods the dingy room as she leans into her work, illuminating her powerful shoulder and the line of her hip and leg. We don't see her face. This is all shot from below, over the top of a pile of finished wool, its strands luminous and graceful as a sea wave, and as quietly startling in the gloom -- the outcome, after all, of her labor.
On the back wall -- part of Rogovin's "Quartet" series of Buffalo families shot four times over a period of 40 years (expanded yet again following his 1994 book, Triptychs) -- the grandparents of Joey pose with him at his baptism, the lush white of the infant's lacey baptismal gown torrential as a waterfall between their darkly clad, heavy torsos, richly evoking both the city's landmark and new life's momentum. On the third wall, a miner and his wife sit in their kitchen. The edge of the table closest to us anchors the image and its sharply angling corner, both lustrous with reflected light, pull us right into its center.
Elsewhere a Chinese miner against a brute brick wall clasps a flashlight in his hands along that bottom line as delicately as a secret message. A little further a thin and elderly miner -- proving that fragility is a relative thing -- in one image seems dwarfed next to earth-moving equipment but then sits with his wife, cradling a tiger kitten much frailer than he inside his hands.