John Rogers in the 21st Century: Contemporary Issues
Seen Through a 19th Century Lens.

An ongoing project which includes a hand-made, limited edition, Photographic Artist Book.  
Printed entirely with cyanotype, no ink involved.

John Rogers (1829 - 1904) was the most popular sculptor in 19th Centry America.
He created works depicting Socio-Economic Tensions, Voter Suppression, Politics, War and Race Relations.
His work, produced from 1859-1893, speaks directly to current issues.

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Voter Suppression

6x4” tintype
Poll sitter blocks ballot box as he checks the voter registration list.

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Cover Test

Digital Reference Image
Covers for the book  John Rogers in the 21st Century featuring portrait of Rogers.

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Page Test

Digital Reference Image
John Rogers in the 21st Century, a book  printed with cyanotype, no ink involved. 

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Teacher

6x4” tintype
Uncle Ned teaching a woman to read

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Rip

6x4” tintype
Portrait of actor Joeseph Jefferson in the role he was famous for: Rip Van Winkle.

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Uncle Ned’s School

6x4” tintype
Black man breaks law by teaching a black woman to read.

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Touchstone

5x4” cyanotype
Jester looks on while two men wrestle.

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Clutch

5x4” cyanotype
Hungry child clutches at his mother’s skirts.

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Two Couples

6x4” tintype
Female couple looks on as male couple embrace.

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Rogers Party

4x4” cyanotype
Three groups meet for the first time.

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Endpaper Test

Digital Reference Image
John Rogers’ signature, rendered as endpapers for John Rogers in the 21st Century.

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Bridegroom /Parson

6x4” tintype
Parson is very fond of the young man who has burst into his parlor.

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Oath Composite

10x8" tintype collage
Southern woman swears alligence to the Union in exchange for food.

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Engraving Tests

Digital Reference Image
Cyanotype prints of a period catalogue engraving for Challenging the Union Vote.

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Brady Bunch

6x6” tintype collage
Story of a lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely girls.

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Parson Composite

10x8” tintype collage
Young couple presents themselves to the parson.

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Orlando and Charles

4x6” tintype
Orlando grabs shirtless Charles from behind.

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#MeToo

4x6” tintype
Young woman backs away from the advances of an older man.

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Farmer Wins

4x6” tintype
Simple farmer wins at checkers against his city slicker boss.

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Politics

4x6” tintype
Woman intercedes in political battle of wills.

John Rogers in the 21st Century: Contemporary Issues Seen Through a 19th Century Lens.

Sokosh uses the 19th Century photo processes of wet-plate collodion (tintype) and cyanotype to create images of John Rogers’ sculpture groups. Rogers, the most popular American sculptor of the 19th century, is neglected today. His work is remembered as sentimental genre scenes featuring oaths sworn and checkers played. A deeper dive reveals socio-economic tension as a working farmer wins at checkers against a wealthy city slicker and a woman takes an oath of allegiance to the U.S. in exchange for food for her starving child. Voter suppression, politics and race relations appear.

Some of Sokosh's pieces break a group into several images, then composite them to form a graphic impression of the whole. Others make satirical reference to pop culture or celebrate sculptural beauty and expression. He explores the sexual politics he sees in the sculpture groups. including same sex attraction which may or may not have been intended by the sculptor.

Sokosh states: "I am mindful of ethics as I create work using these sculptures. In “Wounded Scout”, for example, an escaping slave is helping a wounded Union soldier. I marvel at two sensitive portraits in a story of race relations, a work unique in the 19th Century. I’m proud to make new work based on these pieces. I honor Rogers’ work, using it as a jumping off point for creating work that re-sets the narrative for new audiences that are far from the white, middle class, heteronormative audience that Rogers was speaking to.”

Rogers was a master of modern marketing. Starting in the 1860’s, he offered his statue groups through mail-order catalogues. These featured engravings, price lists and shipping information. In addition he licensed the right to photograph his groups to create interest through photographic images. At times he sculpted celebrities (see Rip above). It was possible to see a Broadway play (either in New York or on tour) order a statue group featuring the star of the show from the catalog and have it shipped to you home.


The first half of the title: John Rogers in the 21st Century makes reference to the television series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, (1979-1981) where a sleeping hero awakens in the future. Here, it is the sculpture that re-awakens in a new century with a lot to say.
The second half of the title: Contemporary Issues Seen Through a 19th Century Lens refers to the fact that Sokosh uses a 19th century lens to create these pieces. The title contains a double entendre, as the issues that Rogers handled 150 years ago may be difficult for us to recognize because he viewed them through the 19th century lens of his experience but they are there, current as ever.

John Rogers is an ongoing project which will include a limited edition, hand-made, photographic artist book. Printed entirely with cyanotype, no ink involved.

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All images © 2020-2022 by David Sokosh.