Working-class men and women, the poor, the destitute – all individuals whom society can sometimes take for granted – held a special place for photographer Milton Rogovin. He made it his life’s work to really see them through his lens and document the humanity of those he called “the forgotten ones.”
Just a few weeks after celebrating his 101st birthday, Rogovin died on Tuesday, Jan. 18, at his home in Buffalo, N.Y. His legacy lives on, however, at the Library, through a collection of some 30,000 images reflecting the full scope of his career, including a selection of some of his best-known images. Rogovin and his family generously donated the collection to the Library in 1999.
The collection consists of more than 1,200 black-and-white photographs selected and printed by the photographer, and most of the 120mm negatives and contact sheets made during his long photographic career. Additional material includes correspondence pertaining to his photographic travels and exhibitions, as well as correspondence with W.E.B. DuBois, Pablo Neruda, Stephen Jay Gould and Robert Coles.
Refusing to be silenced by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, Rogovin turned to photography in his quest for social justice. His dignified portraits of workers speak of the dreams and aspirations common to mankind.
Influenced by the work of Lewis Hine and Paul Strand, Rogovin’s camera illuminated prominent social issues of the day. He began his interest in photography by documenting Buffalo’s African American store-front churches. He captured the transitory nature of the buildings used for religious services and the emotion of the church services. Later photographs document working-class individuals in a six-block neighborhood of Buffalo’s lower west side, home to Puerto Ricans, African Americans, Native Americans, and other ethnic groups. In addition, Rogovin documented Native Americans on reservations in New York state, made an around-the-world survey of miners and their families, photographed steelworkers before and after plant closings, documented teenage pregnancy, and immortalized the Yemeni community of Lackawana, N.Y.
The Rogovin collection strengthens the Library’s outstanding collection of documentary photography, which includes Lewis Hine’s extensive photographic documentation for the National Child Labor Committee, the archives of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information and Ansel Adams’s photographs of a Japanese relocation camp at Manzanar, Calif.
Rogovin’s work is also in the collections of more than 20 institutions, including the Center for Creative Photography, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House and the J. Paul Getty Center.