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Anne Rogovin, unidentified man with tattoos, and Milton Rogovin, full-length portrait

Milton Rogovin Photograph Collection

Social documentary photographs, ca. 1953-2002


Background and Scope | The Photographer | The Photographs | Arrangement and Access | Permissions and Credits | Obtaining Reproductions | Related Resources | Selected Bibliography

Background and Scope

The Milton Rogovin Collection consists of approximately 30,000 images (shown in about 29,700 black-and-white negatives, 2,500 contact sheets, and 1,130 signed prints), reflecting the full scope of Mr. Rogovin's six decades in photography. The collection includes his photographs of Buffalo's Lower West Side and the "Family of Miners" series. It also features thousands of images that have never been published--among them photographs of the Yemeni, Chileans, steelworkers, and Native American reservations in upstate New York.

From the impoverished neighborhoods around his optometry office in Buffalo, New York, to working class communities around the world, Rogovin's photographs depict overlooked or exploited segments of society with a dedication that expresses his subject's dignity. Rogovin frequently photographed his subjects both at work and at home creating a broader look at their lives. For decades, Rogovin focused on the people and the neighborhood of Buffalo's Lower West Side, resulting in a deeply moving portrait of people's lives over the course of thirty years (1969-2002). The Lower West Side project is an important social document of our multi-ethnic society because of its depiction of the neighborhood's environment and residents. The photographs' far-ranging reach takes in stores, streets, houses, graffiti, and especially the people--from children to the elderly.

In 1969 the Library began to purchase individual prints from Milton Rogovin, and had acquired a group of approximately 30 photographs by the late 1990s. In 1999 Milton Rogovin donated much of his photographic archive to the Library.

The Photographer

Born in 1909, Milton Rogovin grew up in New York City and attended Columbia University where he earned a degree in optometry. In 1938, Rogovin moved to Buffalo, New York, to work in an optometry practice, opening his own office the following year. Alongside his practice, Rogovin was socially active in the optometrist union, worked on voter registration drives in African-American communities, and volunteered as the literature director for the local Communist Party. In 1957 when the House Committee on Un-American Activities came to Buffalo, Rogovin was called to testify before them. Rogovin pled the Fifth Amendment, and his trial was widely covered by the Buffalo media, which named him the "Top Red in Buffalo." The adverse publicity damaged his optometry practice.

Early Photographs

A year later, Rogovin found a new outlet to express his political concerns. William H. Tallmadge, a professor of music at the State University College at Buffalo, approached Rogovin to take pictures of services at storefront churches in Buffalo's African American neighborhoods. While the professor made sound recordings of church services, Rogovin documented the preachers, musicians, and congregants in these make-shift houses of worship. His photographs were used on a record album cover and liner notes produced by Tallmadge. Rogovin had purchased his first camera in 1942 and had taken snapshots and travel photographs over the years, including images of Mexico in the 1950s that have become some of his better known work. In many ways, however, Rogovin's storefront churches series was his photographic education, as he learned how to interact with both the camera and with the people he wanted to photograph. During the storefront churches project, Rogovin met and corresponded with photographer and educator Minor White, who greatly influenced Rogovin's ideas about method and practice. In 1962 it was Minor White who first published photographs from this project in the influential photography magazine Aperture, accompanied by an essay by noted historian W.E.B. DuBois.

Forging a Vision

After the completion of the storefront churches project, Rogovin continued to photograph in Buffalo's East Side neighborhood where the churches were, often photographing congregants in their homes. With his wife Anne, who encouraged and assisted him throughout his career, Rogovin went to Appalachia visiting towns in Alabama, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Photographing everything from religious services, deep mines, and strip miners at work, Rogovin's images depict work and family life in a moving portrait of rural poverty. In 1967 Rogovin traveled to Chile, photographing in small towns. He visited poet Pablo Neruda, who he had corresponded with, and photographed Neruda's home in Isla Negra. The result of the collaboration was the book, Windows that Open Inward, by White Pine Press.

Lower West Side

In the early 1970s, after focusing on other localities, Rogovin turned his attention to the six-block Lower West Side neighborhood of Buffalo near his optometry office. Originally populated by Italians, by the 1960s the Lower West Side was an impoverished, ethnically diverse neighborhood made up of African Americans, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, and poor whites. Rogovin gained the trust of the people he wished to photograph by not asking people many questions, by returning regularly to the area, and by giving people copies of the photographs he made of them. Photographing people on a stoop or in the street, and inside their homes, Rogovin depicts both the public and private lives of the neighborhood residents. There are pictures of work, weddings, family gatherings, and street festivals. Rogovin spent nearly five years in the Lower West Side of Buffalo and the result is an intricate and far-reaching portrait of a working class neighborhood. These photographs are the basis of a series which continued for thirty years.

Working People

While work and images of workers had always been a thread running through Rogovin's photographs, in the late 1970s his work became intensely focused on documenting workers in heavy industry. For his Working People series, Rogovin photographed workers in a variety of factories in and around Buffalo, and then subsequently photographed the same workers at home. Through these diptychs, Rogovin documented the often overlooked or ignored effort and danger of industrial labor, and created a sociological portrait of Buffalo's working class. Working in the same vein of capturing people at work and home, Rogovin traveled extensively in the 1980s, photographing working people around the world. Rogovin won the W. Eugene Smith Award for Documentary Photography and was able to continue the Family of Miners series. By then in his seventies, Rogovin kept up a vigorous pace, traveling to China, Cuba, the former Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Scotland, Spain, and Zimbabwe. In many of these places, Rogovin photographed miners, creating a series he called a "Family of Miners."

Triptychs and Quartets

In the early 1980s, Rogovin also revisited the Lower West Side in an attempt to document the changes to the neighborhood and to find and re-photograph people whom he had first photographed in the 1970s. In 1992, Rogovin returned to document those same individuals again, and these pictures, along with those from the 1970s and 80s, were published in the book Triptychs: Buffalo's Lower West Side Revisited (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1994). As a picture of time's inevitable changes, a sociological record of three decades of changing culture, and as a portrait of people growing up and families forming and some breaking apart, these triptychs succeed beautifully. They have become Rogovin's most famous work, and have been widely published and exhibited. In 2000, after having surgery to heal debilitating cataracts, Rogovin returned to the Lower West Side once again to photograph people for a fourth time. Sixteen of these quartets, along with brief interviews with the subjects, were published in Milton Rogovin: the Forgotten Ones (New York: Quantuck Lane Press, 2003).

For Rogovin, his all-encompassing photographic project was to document "the Forgotten Ones," a term which Rogovin uses to signify the overlooked and exploited segments of society. "I have concentrated on the poor," Rogovin has said, "the rich ones have their own photographers." His photographs are the product of respect for people and are deeply expressive of his subject's strength and dignity.

The Photographs

Except in photographing his storefront series, Milton Rogovin used a twin-lens Rolleiflex camera on a tripod. He used a bare-bulb flash when making indoor portraits. His prints were made on various Kodak papers. Most of his photographs are printed on 8x10" paper.

Prints & Photographs Division staff have selected for individual cataloging and digitization a variety of images to give a flavor for the contents of the collection. The following groupings include some of Rogovin's best-known work and also some of the notable but less well known photographs he created.

Popular Images

A selection of Milton Rogovin's best-known images.

Woman and child, Chile


Selections from Buffalo's Lower West Side, 1972-2002.

Carmen and Pam Gangarossa with infant daughter, full-length portrait, standing, facing front, at Christmas Carmen, dressed for hunting, wearing waders, and carrying shotgun, and Pam Gangarossa, with their children, full-length portrait, standing, facing frontCarmen and Pam Gangarossa full-length portrait, sitting on sofa, facing front, with two sons also on the sofa, and three daughters standing behind the sofa


Selections from throughout his career of photographing workers.

Unidentified cobbler, three-quarter length portrait, facing front, seated in shop, holding shoe on lap, Quemchi, Chile

Women Workers

Selection of Rogovin's photographs of women working in traditional and non-traditional fields, from miners in the U.S. and other nations to heavy industry in the Buffalo area.

Unidentified African American woman, half-length portrait, facing front, standing at a machine in a Westinghouse factory

Workers at the Workplace and at Home

Selection highlighting Rogovin's interest in photographing miners and steel workers both on the job and with their families at home.

Joseph Kemp Kemp family, 1978 Joe Kemp, Lower West Side revisited

Arrangement and Access

Milton and Anne Rogovin organized his photographs by geographic areas and themes. In processing the collection, the Library has maintained the integrity of Rogovin's original organization of the negatives and contact sheets. Each LOT is organized chronologically.

The processing of the collection has further refined Rogovin's organization, consolidating information from various sources onto contact sheets, and updating Rogovin's reporting of place names. Furthermore, contact sheets have been made for negatives that did not have this ready reference viewing tool. Rogovin's original negative sleeves contain detailed notes used when making prints. Arranged in the same manner as the negatives for easy cross-reference, these negative sleeves are stored offsite and are served by special arrangement. Rogovin's logbook with additional caption information for selected prints is in the Prints & Photographs Division's Supplementary Archives.

In general, the collection has not been digitized. Researchers who wish to view the material must request it in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room. The photographs are arranged in two series:

  • The majority of the photographs are grouped by project into LOTs. Within each LOT, the first section consists of signed 8 x 10" prints. The second section is made up of contact sheets. Some LOTs, however, contain exclusively contact sheets or exclusively prints. The signed prints for each LOT have been arranged in the order they appear in on the contact sheets thus facilitating quick access to the information needed for photoduplication and easy cross-referencing between the prints and negatives. When available, information from the photographer's logbook that offers additional caption information has been included in the LOT. A small selection of photographs from the LOTs has been digitized and individually cataloged to give an online sample of the collection.

  • About thirty photographs are available in the Prints & Photographs Division's individually cataloged "PH" series. All of the prints in the PH filing series have individual online catalog records. [View catalog records]

LOT Summaries

LOT 13523 - Storefront Churches, East Side, Buffalo, N.Y., 1958-1963

Photographs of religious services, interiors, exteriors, congregations, and ministers. Images depict baptism, praise and worship, preaching, trances, music, and members of the congregation, including children. [view catalog record]

LOT 13524 - "Home" East Side, Buffalo, N.Y., 1959-1987

African American community on Buffalo's East Side. Photographs show adults and children at home, inside a barbershop, children outside, the surrounding neighborhood, including storefronts, shops, and dwellings. Some photographs made in August 1987 on Jefferson Avenue. [view catalog record]

LOT 13525 - Family of Miners, Appalachia Photographs, 1963-1987

Portraits of workers and the unemployed in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Alabama. Photographs document workers at the mines and at home, religious services, schools, architecture, roads, and the landscape, especially the effects of strip mining. [view catalog record]

LOT 13526 - Lower West Side, Buffalo, N.Y., 1972-1977

Portraits of African American, Italian American, Native American, Puerto Rican, and White families at home, inside stores and restaurants, and on the street. Includes photographs of festivals, weddings, and religious services. [view catalog record]

LOT 13527 - Lower West Side, Buffalo, N.Y., Revisited, 1984-1986

Rogovin returned to the Lower West Side twelve years after he began documenting the neighborhood. He rephotographed many of the same subjects. He also photographed homeless people outside a shelter. [view catalog record]

LOT 13528 - Lower West Side, Buffalo, N.Y., Revisited, 1992-1994

Rogovin re-photographed the same people he met on earlier visits to the neighborhood. Includes single portraits, group portraits with extended families, or photographs of family members. [view catalog record]

LOT 13529 - Lower West Side, Buffalo, N.Y., Diptychs and Triptychs, 1972-2002

Selections from the Lower West Side series. [view catalog record]

LOT 13530 - Yemenite Community, Lackawanna, N.Y., 1978-1979

Photographs of a Yemenite community in Lackawanna, New York, including images taken at services marking the end of Ramadan. [view catalog record]

LOT 13531 - Working People, Buffalo, N.Y., 1978-1988

Photographs show employees of various industries, focusing on steel mills in Buffalo, New York. In addition to portraits in the workplace, Rogovin photographed workers in their homes. Rogovin rephotographed some workers ten years later. [view catalog record]

LOT 13532 - Photographs of People and Towns in Chile, 1967

Includes portraits, street scenes, houses, architectural details, food, and restaurant interiors. Also includes images of Pablo Neruda and his home on Isla Negra. [view catalog record]

LOT 13533 - Family of Miners. Scotland Photographs, 1982

Individual and group portraits of miners at work and in their homes. Photographs also show the social life of the miners, at stock car races, dances, pubs, and playing darts. Also includes images of businesses and residential streets. [view catalog record]

LOT 13534 - Family of Miners, France Photographs, 1981

Individual and group portraits of miners at work and at home with their families. Also includes images of pets, street vendors, people socializing at a bar, and residential streets. [view catalog record]

LOT 13535 - Family of Miners, Spain Photographs, 1983

Portraits of people at work and at home with their families. Images show industrial and agricultural workplaces, including factories, machine shops, construction sites, mines, and farms. Other images depict potters, cobblers, basket weavers, and stone carvers. [view catalog record]

LOT 13536 - Family of Miners, Germany Photographs, 1984

Mine and coke industry workers in Ruhr, Germany. Images depict people before and after work, and at home with their families. [view catalog record]

LOT 13537 - Family of Miners, Cuba Photographs, 1984-1989

Portraits of people at work and at home with their families. Photographs show industrial and agricultural workplaces, such as factories, sugar mills, processing plants, machine shops, construction sites, and farms. [view catalog record]

LOT 13538 - Photographs of People and Sites in Mexico and Family of Miners Series Photographs, ca. 1953-1956 and 1988

Photographs from the 1950s include workers, street scenes, landscapes, social activities, and Mayan ruins. Work activities include tile making, stone cutting, sisal processing, pottery making, weaving, and boat building and repair. Photographs from 1988 document miners preparing for work, in the mines, and in social settings after work. [view catalog record]

LOT 13539 - Family of Miners, China Photographs, October 1986

Photographs show miners at work or outside the mines, and workers at a construction site and factory in China. Series also includes workers at home with their families. [view catalog record]

LOT 13540 - Family of Miners, Zimbabwe Photographs, 1989

Portraits of miners at work and at home. Also includes images of religious services and the exteriors and interiors of homes. [view catalog record]

LOT 13541 - Family of Miners, Czechoslaovakia Photographs, 1990

Photographs include portraits of men and women at work in the mines, workers playing chess, socializing at a bar, and at home with their families. [view catalog record]

LOT 13542 - Street Scenes and People in Greece, 1978

Primarily street scenes and individual and group portraits. Photographs show street vendor kiosks, shops, storefronts, and people, including children outside and at home. [view catalog record]

LOT 13543 - Children having Children, Photographs of Young Mothers with their Children, Buffalo, N.Y., 1991-1993

Photographs of teenage mothers with their children. [view catalog record]

LOT 13544 - Photographs of the Punk subculture in Buffalo, N.Y., 1991

Portraits documenting members of the Punk subculture, often in domestic settings. [view catalog record]

LOT 13545 - Iroquois Indians in Western New York and Ontario, Canada, 1963-1993

Individual and group portraits of Iroquois Indians on reservations in western New York and Canada. Also photographs of students at school, a Native American protest march, a ceremony in a longhouse, and Native American crafts. [view catalog record]

LOT 13546 - Photographs of poeple and sites, primarily in New York and areas of Québec and Ontario, Canada, 1953-1995

Primarily made in the Buffalo area, some made in Canada. A wide variety of topics are represented including a fire in a residential area of Niagara Falls, a theater troupe, apple pickers, Vietnam veterans, nuns and portraits of cellist Mischa Schneider and Rogovin family members. [view catalog record]

LOT 13547 - Head Start Program, Buffalo, N.Y., ca. 1965-ca. 1973

Head Start Program at Jefferson School. Children at home and at school, on a field trip, and playing. [view catalog record]

LOT 13548 - Harlem, New York City, N.Y., 1982

Portraits of women workers, particularly seamstresses, in a clothing factory. Also includes portraits of workers at home, school children and hot dog vendors. [view catalog record]

LOT 13561 - Buffalo, N.Y., Cooperatives, 1971 and 1980

Photographs document the October Graphics cooperative and Yeast-West Bakery. [view catalog record]

LOT 13572 - Photographs of photographer Milton Rogovin's home and family, 1992-1994

Photographs of the photographer's home and family. [view catalog record]

Permissions and Credits

Researchers may make photocopies of contact sheets for purposes of reference use and ordering copies. Individual larger format photographic prints may not be photocopied. Publication and other forms of distribution of the images are restricted. Permission from The Rogovin Collection, LLC, is required. For contact information, see the full rights statement available online at: Privacy and publicity rights may also apply.

Obtaining Reproductions

Researchers can buy photographic copies of items in the collection through the Library of Congress Duplication Services. Orders must include the reproduction number of the desired image. When ordering an image found on a contact sheet, researchers should include a photocopy of the contact sheet with the desired image highlighted or circled in order to assist the Duplication Services in accurately completing the order.

Related Resources Outside the Library of Congress

Burchfield-Penney Art Center
Buffalo, NY 14222

The Burchfield-Penney Art Center's collection includes 225 photographs by Milton Rogovin.

J. Paul Getty Museum
Department of Photographs
Los Angeles, California 90049-1681

The J. Paul Getty Museum has more than 200 photographs by Milton Rogovin. This website provides a brief biography and displays a few of his images.

Milton Rogovin, Social Documentary Photographer

Website developed by Milton Rogovin's family. Includes an overview of many of Milton Rogovin's photographic series, a comprehensive bibliography and list of one man and group shows in which he has participated, etc.

Milwaukee Art Museum
Milwaukee, WI 53202

The Milwaukee Art Museum collection includes seventy photographs by Milton Rogovin. Their web site has a presentation on Milton Rogovin's triptychs, as well as a curriculum for teachers.

Selected Bibliography

Herzog, Melanie. Milton Rogovin: the making of a social documentary photographer. Tucson: Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona ; Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006. Call number: TR647.R62 H47 2006 [view catalog record]

A catalog produced in conjunction with an exhibit at the Center for Creative Photography in 2006, which includes images from throughout Rogovinís photographic career. This book traces the development of his work as photographer and life as an activist, weaving together his personal accounts and recollections with historical context and scholarly insight.

Rogovin, Milton. Milton Rogovin, the Forgotten Ones. Interview by Cheryl Brutvan. Seattle: University of Washington Press; Buffalo: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1985. Call number: TR647.R62 1985 P&P Ref [view catalog record]

Catalog for an exhibition held at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N.Y., and the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, in 1985. This publication contains a broad range of work by the photographer. The images were made between 1952 and 1983, and include work from the following series: Mexico, Storefront Churches, Chile, Appalachia, Lower West Side, Yemeni, Working People, and portraits of working class people in France, Scotland, and Spain.

Rogovin, Milton. Milton Rogovin: The Forgotten Ones. New York: Quantuck Lane Press, 2003. Call number: TR681 .P6 R64 2003 P&P Ref [view catalog record]

Includes photographs made in Buffalo, New York, between 1958-1985 and a series of sixteen quartets documenting individuals and families between 1972 and 2002, with oral histories by the portrait sitters.

Rogovin, Milton. Milton Rogovin: the mining photographs. Los Angeles : J. Paul Getty Museum, c2005. Call number: TR681.C62 R64 2005 [view catalog record]

Rogovin, Milton. Portraits in Steel. Photographs by Milton Rogovin; interviews by Michael Frisch. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993. Call number: HD8039 .I52 U575 1993 P&P Ref [view catalog record]

Interviews with 17 iron and steel workers in the Buffalo area accompanied by photographs of the workers. In 1976 Rogovin photographed workers in Buffalo-area steel plants and at home with their families. He returned in the mid 1980s, after many of the plants had closed to rephotograph the same families.

Rogovin, Milton. Triptychs: Buffalo's Lower West Side Revisited. New York: W.W. Norton, 1994. Call number: F129.B843 L697 1994 P&P Ref [view catalog record]

Fifty triptychs made between 1972 and 1992 in Buffalo's ethnically diverse Lower West Side neighborhood. An essay by Joann Wypijewski discusses the neighborhood and quotes from some of the sitters.

Prepared by: Mike Yates and Amber Revoir, Junior Fellows; Carol Johnson, Curator; and Cary McStay, Processing Technician and Processing Project Leader. Last updated: May 2017.

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