Milton Rogovin roamed the earth for more than 40 years with his Leica, snapping countless pictures of working-class people from the steelworkers of Lackawanna to miners in the Chilean Andes.
Those dignified black-and-white portraits, almost always shot head-on, with the subjects looking squarely into the lens, earned Rogovin a place in the pantheon of great social documentary photographers and prominent placement of his works in galleries from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Santa Monica, Calif.
But until last week, when 225 of his works were donated to the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Rogovin's prolific output had never been adequately represented in his hometown. Robert M. Budin, a retired stockbroker and artist who heads the Burchfield-Penney board of trustees, has purchased the pictures and donated them to the gallery.
The collection, which represents every phase of the photographer's career, "is among the most important gifts the museum has received," said Ted Pietrzak, Burchfield-Penney executive director. "It elevates our already impressive photography collection to national importance, and will be a permanent legacy to one of America's greatest photographers."
For Rogovin, 91, the transaction means his legacy will endure in the city that matters most to him.
"I'm very, very pleased," he said. "I know the Burchfield-Penney will do a lot with the collection. It won't just be a repository."
Indeed, planning already has begun for a major Rogovin retrospective in late 2003. A grant application will be submitted to the National Endowment for the Arts this summer.
"Because of the quality of his work, it's the kind of thing the NEA would fund," said curator Nancy Weekly.
Some of the pictures will turn up this fall on the walls of the Rockwell Hall art center, in "Images of American Indians," which the Burchfield-Penney will open in conjunction with the Pan-American Exposition centennial.
Budin, who stepped in when negotiations with a prospective corporate sponsor fell through, would not reveal how much he paid for the glossy prints, which were boxed up in a former coal bin in the basement of Rogovin's Chatham Avenue home, a few blocks from the museum.
But artist and benefactor joked about it as they thumbed through the portraits recently in the Rockwell Hall conference room.
"I was overwhelmed that someone would have so much money," Rogovin said.
"Borrowed so much," Budin countered. "When does your Ferrari get delivered?"
"They called to say it will arrive tomorrow morning."
Whatever it cost, securing the collection was worthwhile to Budin.
"I felt from Day One that having a body of Milton's work was much more important than having just a few photographs," Budin said. Before the gift, the Burchfield owned only eight Rogovin pictures.
The announcement of Budin's gift coincides with the publication by White Pine Press of Rogovin's latest book of photography, "The Bonds Between Us: Family Portraits From Around the World."