Milton Rogovin, Social Documentarian, Dies at 101

Posted by David Ozanich — 19 Jan 2011

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Milton Rogovin, described as "one of America's most dedicated social documentarians," died on Tuesday in Buffalo, NY at the ripe old age of 101. An ardent leftist, Rogovin was assailed as "Buffalo's Number One Red" during the 1950s. With his optometry business in near ruins from the bad publicity, he picked up a camera and began photographing the poor and dispossessed in his hometown. "All my life I've focused on the poor," he said in 2003. "The rich ones have their own photographers." More from the New York Times obituary:

Mr. Rogovin chronicled the lives of the urban poor and working classes in Buffalo, Appalachia and elsewhere for more than 50 years. His direct photographic style in stark black and white evokes the socially minded work that Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks produced for the Farm Security Administration during the Depression. Today his entire archive resides in the Library of Congress.


In a 1976 review of a Rogovin show of photographs from Buffalo at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan, the critic Hilton Kramer wrote of Mr. Rogovin in The New York Times: "He sees something else in the life of this neighborhood -- ordinary pleasures and pastimes, relaxation, warmth of feeling and the fundamentals of social connection. He takes his pictures from the inside, so to speak, concentrating on family life, neighborhood business, celebrations, romance, recreation and the particulars of individuals' existence."

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In a curious bit of perfect-timing, an exhibit of his work, titled "The Working-Class Eye of Milton Rogovin," opens tomorrow in Chicago at the Gage Gallery. It's on view until June 30th. The Times also digs out of their archives an audio slideshow in which Rogovin discusses his photography. You can find it here. Finally, you can also visit Rogovin's website to see more of his work.

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