“If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.”
–Lewis Hine

Hine’s oft-quoted and punchy one-liner underscores a central belief in the history of photography: only a photograph is capable of telling a certain kind of story. When words fail, photographers have shouldered the burden of both heavy equipment and the role of social historian in pursuit of these visual narratives, which can range from bleak to humorous tales of moral or economic circumstances. NOMA has long had a deep collection of early social documentary work but recently the Museum acquired four significant groups of photographs by later photographers: Milton Rogovin, Leon Levinstein, Frank Paulin, and Debbie Fleming Caffery. Each of these photographers, although stylistically very different, picked up the camera in search of artful documents of daily life. Their photographs, alternately uplifting and touching or deeply serious, are presented here alongside select works by the earlier photographers that inspired them.

Lower West Side, Buffalo

Circa 1980

Milton Rogovin


St. Patrick’s Day

Circa 1962

Leon Levinstein


Man with Cigar


Frank Paulin




Debbie Fleming Caffery


One of the Homeless Wandering Boys


Dorothea Lange