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Happy birthday, Mr. Rogovin

Oct nov. 2005
Photographer Milton Rogovin at a 2005 protest in Buffalo. Photo by Paula Rogovin. Courtesy The Rogovin Collection, LLC

Today, Milton Rogovin, the internationally known social documentary photographer who has called Buffalo home for more than 70 years, turns 100. Rogovin, whose photographic explorations of the poor and working classes -- in Buffalo and around the globe -- was honored earlier this month with a celebration at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

Rogovin began his life in New York City, and moved to Buffalo to start an optometry practice in 1938. He was inducted into the army in 1942. In the anti-communist fervor of the 1950s, Rogovin was called before the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee and refused to name names. Because of his silence, Rogovin was effectively forced to give up his optometry practice and turned instead to photography, which he saw as a way to expose social injustices and to tell the stories of the world's oppressed minorities. This turned out to be fortuitous for Rogovin's social causes, and for the field of photography as a whole. His travels took him from Buffalo's West Side, where he still lives, to the factories and neighborhoods of Latin America, Africa and Europe.

The faces of his subjects, though they hailed from different continents, bore the unmistakable mix of strength and discouragement that characterizes the experience of the world's working poor. In this way, his photography became much more than mere documentation, but a link that joined together disparate sections of the world's population and pointed toward a great and painful commonality among all cultures.

Some of Rogovin's work, with accompanying poetry by local professor Eric Gansworth, is now on view at the Burchfield Penney. See a slide show of that work, with narration by Gansworth, below:

--Colin Dabkowski

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