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View, England, London, Aerial, Houses of Parliament, Charles E. Rotkin, Vintage Photograph, c. 1950s

Charles E. Rotkin (1916-2004)
Houses of Parliament, London, England
American: c. 1956-58
Black and white photograph
16 x 20 inches
Provenance: Estate of the Artist
Price on Request

Original aerial photograph taken by Charles E. Rotkin of the Houses of Parliament in London, England, for his book Europe: An Aerial Close-Up.

This photograph is published on page 14 of that work, with Rotkin’s description:

“The Union Jack, flying over the 336-foot Victoria Tower, indicates that the third oldest parliament in the world is in session.  Long before the Norman Conquest, King Canute occupied a palace on this site.  The first Westminster Palace was built in 1097; Richard II ordered it rebuilt in 1394, when Westminster Hall, with its magnificent hammer-head roof, was added.  The huge building was used in those days as both a Royal Residence and a Parliament building.  In 1834 it was partly destroyed by fire, and when rebuilt, the Central Tower and Clock Tower were added, as well as new chambers for the House of Commons.  The new House of Commons was again badly damaged during the bombings of 1941. To the left of Parliament are Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Church, with the statues of great men ringing Parliament Square.  One American is among them: Abraham Lincoln.  Behind Parliament, other government offices stretch up Parliament Street toward Whitehall and Trafalgar Square.  At the left is a group of buildings housing the Treasury and Foreign Office, and at the right is New Scotland Yard and Downing Street where, at Number 10, the Prime Minister resides.”

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Description

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.

Rotkin became interested in photography in his late teens.  After graduating from high school he took a night job at the post office with the notion of pursuing photography by day.  He soon met Roy Stryker (1893-1975), who ran the Farm Security Administration’s Historical Section, where from 1935 to 1943 he oversaw the photographic documentation of the activities of this government agency.  The FSA was formed under President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression.  Rotkin was among the many photographers whose careers Stryker helped launch, including Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, Berenice Abbott and Dorothea Lange.  Through the FSA, Rotkin also befriended the photographer Jack Delano and the artist Ben Shahn.  In this milieu, he became interested in social theories of photography.  By 1943, he had sold photo features to New York City newspapers.  World War II was in progress, and he joined the Army, where his background as an amateur pilot led to his assignment to an Air Force squadron.  There he did aerial and gunner photography and received informal on-the-job training as a co-pilot.  He also took portraits of Air Force personnel that were published in military publications.

When Stryker accepted a position at Standard Oil of New Jersey to document the company’s activities, he hired Rotkin to take aerial photographs of the oil fields.  Rotkin’s connections with Stryker also led to his appointment as Chief Photographer for the Puerto Rican government’s Office of Information, where he set up what he later called “a mini-FSA” there and published his first book of documentary photography Puerto Rico: Caribbean Crossroads (1947).   In 1949 he was a founding member of the agency Photography for Industry, among the first photographers to apply the documentary approach to corporate projects such as annual reports. In addition to his industrial work, he published photographs in the Time Inc. magazines such as Life and Time, as well as Holiday, Business Week, Collier’s, and the New York Times Sunday Magazine.  As a member of the American Society of Magazine Photographers, he promoted the intellectual property rights of photographers and served as the organization’s president for two years in the 1950s.  Later in his life, he taught photography and wrote a respected book of career advice, Professional Photographer’s Survival Guide (1982, rev. 1992).

References:

Chad, Barry L. “Bridging the Urban Landscape. The Photographers: Roy E. Stryker.”  Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.  14 May 2003.  http://www.clpgh.org/exhibit/photog14.html (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.  http://www.asmp.org/60th/interview_charlie_rotkin.php (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.

Condition: Our Rotkin photographs were used by the photographer himself, often in connection with the production of his books.  Therefore, they have, to varying degrees, the usual expected light toning, wear, handling, soiling, soft creases, bumped edges, etc.  Some have short marginal tears.  Many were mounted on foam core by Rotkin.  Many have Rotkin’s markings — stamps, inscriptions, or labels — on the verso.  For a detailed condition report including the markings on this photograph, contact us and be sure to include the title of the photo in your inquiry.

Additional information

Century

20th Century