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View, United States Various, Aerial, Charles E. Rotkin, Vintage Photograph, c. 1950s

Charles E. Rotkin (1916-2004)
Aerial Photographs
for The U.S.A.: An Aerial Close-Up
American: c. 1950s-1968
Black and white photographs
Dimensions vary
Price on Request

Aerial photographs from The U.S.A.: An Aerial Close-Up, a pioneering book of aerial photography first published in 1962 and reissued in 1968, with 232 color and black and white photographs, text and captions by Charles E. Rotkin.  The book followed up on Rotkin’s previous work, which showed Europe from the air, and celebrates America’s varied landscape: picturesque rural scenery, visually striking urban environments and ingenious man-made structures such as bridges.  Rotkin’s intent, according to the book flap copy was to “vividly and pointedly show the natural and man-made beauty of our environment and the effect on this beauty of man’s encroachments on land and in the air.” In the present day, when satellite photographs of almost anywhere can be downloaded for free on the Internet and local TV news routinely broadcasts aerial footage of rush-hour traffic, it is worth remembering how revelatory Rotkin’s photos appeared in the 1950s.

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Rotkin was a respected and prolific documentary photographer, widely published during the golden age of pictorial magazines, as well as in corporate publications.  The works that brought Rotkin the greatest renown, however, were his pioneering aerial photography collections, Europe: An Aerial Close-Up (1958) and The U.S.A.: An Aerial Close-Up (1962, 1968).  These books captured the popular imagination at the time, thrilling the public with novel perspectives of familiar places and the beauty of both the natural and the man-made environment.  Rotkin can be seen as one of the heirs to the 19th- and early 20th-century tradition of bird’s-eye views of American towns drawn by itinerant artists in the pre-aviation era and often made into prints.  Of course, the earlier artists’ work, though convincingly drawn and detailed, were typically imaginative projections based on their studies of the town from the ground. These became obsolete with the advent of the airplane and helicopter, which offered actual bird’s-eye views, along with cameras that could take pictures at split-second shutter speeds. Rotkin was one of the early pioneers of the new medium and technique. His work remains significant as an early example of aerial photography with an artistic purpose, and also as historical documents of places that in many cases have significantly changed in the ensuing decades.


Chad, Barry L. “Bridging the Urban Landscape. The Photographers: Roy E. Stryker.”  Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.  14 May 2003. (8 February 2006).

Reese, Kay and Leipzig, Mimi.  “An Interview with Charlie Rotkin.”  1992.  Online at American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). 7 March 2005. (6 February 2006).

Rotkin, Charles E. Europe: An Aerial Close-Up.  Philadelphia and New York: J.P. Lippincott, 1958.

Rotkin, Charles E.  The U.S.A.: An Aerial Close-Up. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1968.

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20th Century