"Roland Freeman's work is a concentrated kind of experience in terms of how black people look at the world," said National Endowment for the Humanities programs officer James Early last night at the Corcoran Gallery. "Most of us are only a full generation removed, if any, from the people in his photographs."

More than 300 friends and fans of photographer Roland Freeman gathered last night to view "Southern Roads/City Pavements: Photos of Black Americans," an exhibition of Freeman's black-and-white photo documentation of rural and urban black life.

"I can relate to the photographs because I'm quite a bit like them--I grew up in North Carolina," said Baltimore realtor Leonard Peoples. "The show brings city folks, like the ones raised in D.C., to a better understanding of the other half."

Following a three-hour seminar on photo documentation of black culture that was attended by an over-capacity audience, Freeman effusively greeted well-wishers in the museum's foyer.

"Would you sign this?" asked longtime friend and former actress Helen Rendon, handing the photographer a photo of herself. Rendon and her husband, Armando, met Freeman in the '60s when he was heavily involved in the civil rights movement, taking the photographs that first won him national attention. "I didn't know you were going to be famous when you took this," Rendon said.

"That's going to be worth about $200 now with his signature," said a photographer snapping a picture of Rendon and Freeman's reunion.

Twins Darian and Gregory Rowland posed with Freeman by the photograph he took of them in 1974. Aspiring photographers and artists crowded around him, asking his advice on everything from how to arrange an exhibit to what kind of film to use.

"If I had to photograph you right now, I'd come up to you and talk to you because that's the best way to get to know your subject," Freeman advised one photographer. "That's what I did with all of these," he added, gesturing to his photos in the background. "I want to feel it when I take a photograph."

Many in the crowd found a message in Freeman's photographs.

"The main thing I get from this exhibit is a better feel for what blacks are saying," said local artist and student Andreia Douglas. "That was our heritage and is our heritage. It says a lot about southern blacks."