Scottish Miners

© Milton Rogovin 1982 Courtesy the Rogovin Collection, LLC

Milton Rogovin

Scottish Miners

1982

Joanna Mawdsley, Schools Education Officer This Portrait of the Month is selected by Joanna Mawdsley, Schools Education Officer

The American photographer Milton Rogovin, who died in January this year, took this photograph. It’s part of the ‘Scottish Miners’ series he created in the 1980s.

Born in New York to Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, Rogovin, the youngest of three sons, went on to become an optometrist and one of America’s most humanitarian social documentary photographers. He dedicated his life to creating photos of working people - the poor and the forgotten. ‘The rich have their own photographers’ he said. He was deeply moved by the poverty of the Great Depression and subsequently tried to help the dispossessed get their eyes checked and have access to affordable glasses. His philanthropy and strong communist beliefs drew the attention of Joe McCarthy and the House of Un-American Activities Committee. In 1957 Rogovin was declared ‘The Top Communist in Buffalo’ by his local newspaper, but he refused to be silenced and found a new political voice through his camera.

I’m the daughter of a Liverpool shipbuilder and this photograph reminds me of my childhood. I was initially drawn to it because of the dominant retro wallpaper and the kitsch print above the fireplace (which I too have in my house now!). I like the fact that they are a normal working class couple completely at ease being photographed by Rogovin. They stare into the camera as if it were a family snap. There is real warmth and tenderness between this couple; you’ll notice they’re holding hands; she has his clasped in hers, and he looks rather stiff, but compliant all the same.

The image is striking in its directness; I feel that it’s a celebration of their life, their existence and their humble abode rather than a ploy for pity. For me, any artist who treats their subjects with such integrity, warmth and kindness is a hero. Milton Rogovin was a true Samaritan and his remarkable body of work continues to inspire me.