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Open your eyes ; Milton Rogovin's photographs showed us the faces, the hard lives of the have-nots

The beloved and prolific documentary photographer Milton Rogovin, who died Tuesday at 101, trained his camera on the lives of the working class.

His pictures have transported us into the storefront churches of Buffalo's East Side in the late 1950s and early '60s, past the crumbling front stoops of the West Side, into the daily lives of working people in Western New York's steel mills and stamping plants, down South to the run-down villages of Appalachia and into the coal-mining towns of Mexico, Chile, Cuba, France, Germany, Zimbabwe and China.

Rogovin's purpose was to show us how people lived. But his body of work was not meant simply to document and catalog the breadth of human experience -- which it did with an incredible and unadorned grace -- but to bridge the gap of understanding between the haves and have-nots. Rogovin knew, perhaps better than anyone, that the social inequality he documented was the result of a lack of knowledge, a convenient ignorance about the way the other half (or perhaps the other 90 percent) lives. He bridged that gap with as many images of working-class life as his camera and his energy could muster. Empathy was his goal, and he achieved it in picture after picture.

And after decades of hard work, Rogovin was rewarded with international recognition that installed him in his rightful place alongside Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and the half-dozen other great social documentary photographers of the 20th century. His reputation in death will no doubt continue to grow.

These photos, from the collection of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, are a brief look into a career that spanned more than half a century, and included dozens of major series, many of which he revisited and updated throughout his long and fruitful life.


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