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Store-Front Churches in Buffalo

About the Collection

Milton Rogovin, born December 30, 1909 in New York City, was trained as an optometrist at Columbia University, where he received his degree in 1931. He moved to Buffalo , New York in 1939, where he established his own optometric practice on Chippewa Street near the city's Lower West Side. This region of the city would serve as a source of material for Rogovin's career as a photographer.

Rogovin served in the United States Army from 1942-1945. When he returned to Buffalo he continued his career as an optometrist and became active in local politics, including the local chapter of the communist party. As a result of these activities, Rogovin was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1957. He refused to cooperate with the committee, pleading his rights under the Fifth Amendment. He was ostracized upon his return to Buffalo and his optometry practice suffered badly. It was at this time that Rogovin, aged 49, began his career as a photographer. His first project was a series of photographs taken of storefront churches in Buffalo's African-American community.

The photographic series on storefront churches was followed by other series that documented the lives of workers and people living in poverty. These series included more work in Buffalo's Lower West Side where he was able to photograph the same people over the course of three decades of their lives. He also photographed coal miners in Appalachia, Scotland, France, China, Mexico, and Spain. Rogovin is quoted as saying, "The rich have their photographers, I photograph the forgotten ones."

Rogovin earned his master of arts degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1972 and taught documentary photography there until 1974. His works have been published in at least four collections under his own name as well as in other collections and numerous periodicals. Rogovin's photographs have also been exhibited at institutions across the United States and internationally, and are included in the collections of more than 20 institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House and the J. Paul Getty Center. Milton Rogovin donated his entire collection to the Library of Congress in 1999.

The collection consists of seventeen black and white photographs of storefront churches in Buffalo, including interior shots during services and exterior shots of the buildings. This small collection chiefly focuses on the musical activities during the church services. The photographs are from a series by Rogovin titled Storefront churches 1958-61. It was with this series that Rogovin began his career as a photographer. Rogovin did not title individual photographs; titles as stated in the container list have been supplied for descriptive purposes.

Please see the finding aid for a complete description of the collection.