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Photographer Milton Rogovin dies at 101

January 18, 2011 | 12:09 pm

Rogovin Milton Rogovin, a social documentary photographer who built a life's work by looking through a lens at people who were ignored by others, died Tuesday at 101.

Rogovin was in hospice care after a brief illness and died at his home in Buffalo surrounded by family, said his son, Mark.

After being blacklisted in the communist scare of the 1950s, Rogovin dedicated his life to photography. His pictures documented the lives of the poor, the dispossessed, the working class -- in particular those living in a six-square-block neighborhood in Buffalo near his optometry practice.

"He referred to these people as the 'forgotten ones,' " his son said. "These were poor and working people who were not ever in the limelight."

Rogovin found "forgotten ones" on New York Indian reservations and in far-flung corners of China, Zimbabwe, France, Scotland and Spain.

Born in New York City in 1909, Rogovin moved to Buffalo in 1938 to practice as an optometrist. He married Anne Setters in 1942, the same year he bought his first camera and was drafted into the U.S. Army. After returning from the war, he organized an optometrists union in Buffalo and served as a librarian in the city's Communist Party. In 1957, he was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

"Rogovin, Named as Top Red in Buffalo, Balks at Nearly All Queries," read the headline the next day in the hometown Buffalo Evening News.

With his optometry business sliced in half because of negative publicity, Rogovin turned to photography, although he never studied it formally.

In 1972, Rogovin turned his lens closer to home, the lower west side of Buffalo, one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the state.

Although he was first suspected of being a police officer or FBI agent, Rogovin eventually gained their trust, shooting 1,000 portraits over three years and always making sure to get a copy back to the subject.

In 1984, he returned to the neighborhood, tracked down his original subjects and photographed as many as he could. He did the same in 1992 when he was 83 and recovering from heart surgery and prostate cancer. He worked until 2002.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Milton Rogovin in a 2000 photo taken at Buffalo subway station where several of his photos are shown. Credit: David Duprey / Associated Press