December 30, 2013
Documentary photographer MILTON ROGOVIN (1909–2011) was an optometrist, a unionizer, a WWII veteran who refused to answer when called up for questioning by the House Unamerican Activities Commission for his political radicalism. In the late ’50s, Rogovin began a project photographing storefront churches, and never put his camera down. His most loving and prolific work came from a lifelong project documenting his neighbors, the people of the Lower West Side of Buffalo. The steel mills shut down, times got harder, Rogovin saw it all in their faces and bodies and living rooms. For me, his masterpiece is Triptychs: Buffalo’s Lower West Side Revisited (1994). In the ’70s, Rogovin began photographing men and women in the neighborhood near his home; he returned to them in the early ’80s and again in the ’90s. The intense and beautiful three-part portraits span decades filled with losses, births, deaths, brokenness, healing. Stories spoken without words. It is clear in his photographs that their first audience was always their subjects. For the respect that Rogovin’s camera afforded them, they were proud and honest. His work is profoundly political without any rhetoric at all; he doesn’t need any soapbox to tell you that working people work hard and deserve a fair deal. In his long life, Rogovin both tended to eyes and opened them.
READ MORE about members of the Partisan Generation (1904-13).