Rodger Kingston: Ordinary Incidents, Extraordinary Images

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October 5, 2009

By Claire Sykes

Photographer and collector Rodger Kingston has been journeying through the peopled American landscape taking documentary photographs, since the mid-70s.

“I’m making a portrait of late-20th- and early-21st-century America out of the raw material of our daily existence: the shapes and colors of city streets and vernacular architecture; the utilitarian design of industrial machines and facades; the punchy visual patois of signs and commercial graphics; the forms and faces of everyday American life,” he says in his essay, A Connoisseur of the Commonplace.

These are from his beautifully self-published book, A Lost World (2009):

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"Industrial Buildings, Evening Light, Warren, RI, 2007 (Copyright Rodger Kingston)

"Industrial Buildings, Evening Light, Warren, RI" 2007 (Copyright Rodger Kingston)

"McGann's Pub, Boston, MA" 2007 (Copyright Rodger Kingston)

"McGann's Pub, Boston, MA" 2007 (Copyright Rodger Kingston)

Rodger has shown extensively throughout the United States, and his photos are in collections at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum, and the National Gallery of American Art and Corcoran Gallery of Art, both in Washington, DC.

Here are some photos from his other book, New American Photographs (2007):

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"Cancelled Skyline, Boston, MA" 2007 (Copyright Rodger Kingston)

"Cancelled Skyline, Boston, MA" 2007 (Copyright Rodger Kingston)

"Buckeye Taxidermy, Belfast, ME" 2006 (Copyright Rodger Kingston)

"Buckeye Taxidermy, Belfast, ME" 2006 (Copyright Rodger Kingston)

Rodger’s series of photos, “Bethlehem” honors the work of the great American photographer, Walker Evans, who spent several days in this Pennsylvania steel-manufacturing town, in early November 1935. Seventy-three years later, Rodger visited as a lecturer, and “spent every spare minute out photographing,” he says. “I saw photographs almost everywhere I looked . . . “

"A Lost World, from Nisky Cemetery, Bethlehem, PA" 2008 (Copyright Rodger Kingston)

"A Lost World, from Nisky Cemetery, Bethlehem, PA" 2008 (Copyright Rodger Kingston)

"Derelict Bethlehem Steel Buildings, Bethlehem, PA" 2008 (Copyright Rodger Kingston)

"Derelict Bethlehem Steel Buildings, Bethlehem, PA" 2008 (Copyright Rodger Kingston)

For as long as he’s been taking pictures, Rodger has been collecting them—anonymous photographs, the kind you find at yard sales and in junk stores. He has amassed over 4,000 vernacular photos, as they’re commonly called, which were displayed at Boston University Art Gallery’s “In the Vernacular: Everyday Photographs from the Rodger Kingston Collection (2004-2005).”

Six of them appear in my article, Vernacular Photography: Images of the Everyday, in the Fall 2009 issue of Photographer’s Forum. Unfortunately, due to an innocent oversight on the part of the magazine staff, they were not credited, either properly or at all. Here they are, from Rodger’s “Forgotten Photographs” series:

Circa 1930s, gelatin silver print (Courtesy Rodger Kingston Collection)

Circa 1930s, gelatin silver print (Courtesy Rodger Kingston Collection)

Lotus the Hippo, Barnes Circus Publicity Photograph, circa 1930 (Courtesy Rodger Kingston Collection)

Lotus the Hippo, Barnes Circus Publicity Photograph, circa 1930 (Courtesy Rodger Kingston Collection)

Circa 1925, gelatin silver print snapshot (Courtesy Rodger Kingston Collection)

Circa 1925, gelatin silver print snapshot (Courtesy Rodger Kingston Collection)

Circa 1940s, gelatin silver print snapshot (Courtesy Rodger Kingston Collection)

Circa 1940s, gelatin silver print snapshot (Courtesy Rodger Kingston Collection)

Circa 1940s, gelatin silver print snapshot (Courtesy Rodger Kingston Collection)

Circa 1940s, gelatin silver print snapshot (Courtesy Rodger Kingston Collection)

Photocollage, circa 1920s, gelatin silver print (Courtesy Rodger Kingston Collection)

Photocollage, circa 1920s, gelatin silver print (Courtesy Rodger Kingston Collection)

To see more of Rodger’s documentary and vernacular photographs, please visit www.rpkphoto.smugmug.com.

© Claire Sykes. All rights reserved.

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Published in: on October 5, 2009 at 4:24 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What a generous, thoughtful overview of my work. And what an interesting artist you make me seem; I’d better pay more attention to what I’m doing! Seriously, thank you for this lovely profile. Actually, it says as much about who you are as it does about me.

    • I think it says a lot about our friendship!


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