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For the forgotten ones ; Rogovin did Buffalo proud in a career that elevated struggle into art

Even though social documentary photographer Milton Rogovin was based in Buffalo and cut his teeth here, he always had his sights set on the world, and with that world view never relinquished the intimacy that distinguishes his work.

The man who, as one expert said, always worked from his heart, rather than his head recently died in his Chatham Avenue home. He was 101.

Rogovin was an international treasure who set down roots here at age 30, but the optometric business he began floundered in the aftermath of his appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1957. It was then that he turned to photography and unfolded a world of everyday people struggling to survive, beginning right here.

His best known book is "Triptychs: Buffalo's Lower West Side Revisited," published in 1994. But his first social documentary series took place on the East Side, "Storefront Churches -- Buffalo," which was completed in 1960.

Rogovin complemented and added to the world of photography during a long career that began in Buffalo as he scoured the edges of this city and looked for subjects.

Today Rogovin's photographs can be seen in museums worldwide, including Buffalo's Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

As Douglas Dreishpoon, chief curator at the Albright-Knox noted, as an optometrist, which is really about correcting vision, Rogovin-the-photographer had an amazing ability to see, perceive and hone an image into a frame that gave us an enormous amount of information about people that we didn't know.

Because Rogovin was in the cross hairs of the House Un-American Activities Committee, he may have decided that ideology is one thing, but the camera is the tool and weapon that would enable him to take pictures of the very people who are the people.

Rogovin's work as a photographer touched lives that he projected in scenes with poetry and grace. He had a humane set of eyes, always looking for the details in a photograph that would help to create context and complement an individual's identity by the very things that they live with and are. It came from someone out to elevate and memorialize, as Dreishpoon said.

As Rogovin was often quoted: "The rich have their photographers. I photograph the forgotten ones."

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