Blue Earth
Glazer's Camera

Milton Rogovin: 1909-2011


A well-known advocate for poor and underprivileged people in America, social documentary photographer Milton Rogovin died in January at the age of 101.

Influenced by photographers such as Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine, he bought his first camera in 1942 and began to take stark black-and-white images as a hobby.

Rogovin began his career as an optometrist, but his compassion for the disadvantaged inhabitants of his area led to involvement in leftist and Communist organizations. In the late 1950s Rogovin was questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee but refused to testify. This decision caused great turmoil for his family and his business. As he lost customers to the "Red Scare," the optometrist began to shift his attention to taking pictures. He had a major breakthrough in 1962 after documenting storefront church services in the poor and predominantly African-American East Side of his hometown, Buffalo, N.Y. As he became better known, Rogovin expanded his documentary images to the Lower West Side of Manhattan and to American Indian reservations in the Buffalo area. Born in 1909 to Jewish immigrant parents from Lithuania, Rogovin was faced with many challenges during his early years. His parents, who owned a dry goods store, lost their business during the Great Depression. Rogovin's father died of a heart attack shortly afterward.

Although he spent most of his time in the eastern United States, he did take several trips abroad, including a sojourn to Chile, where he accompanied poet Pablo Neruda to photograph the landscape and the people. Each summer Rogovin traveled with his wife, Anne, to photograph miners in West Virginia and Kentucky.

In 1972 he earned a master of arts in American studies from the University at Buffalo, where he later taught documentary photography for several years.

Rogovin's photographs can be seen at the Library of Congress, the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Center for Creative Photography.