July - October
The Central Library, Western History Art Gallery - Level 5
Roger Whitacre worked as a commercial photographer in Denver for 35 years, between 1970 and 2005. His specialties included architectural, commercial and editorial photography, much of it focused on Denver’s architecture, including many of its historic landmarks and neighborhoods.
Born July 24, 1938, in St. Louis, Roger Whitacre moved with his family to Denver when he was nine months old. The Whitacre family lived in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood, where Whitacre attended Park Hill Elementary, Smiley Junior High, and East High. After graduating from high school in 1956, he attended the University of Colorado.
Whitacre’s father gave Roger a camera when he was thirteen, when he began shooting, developing, and printing his own pictures. By high school, however, Roger had become more interested in art and, after college, began working as an artist, painter and sculptor, while working part-time as a salesman at Meininger’s Art Supply. In 1969, in order to photograph his own artwork, Whitacre borrowed a camera from a friend, marking the first time he had ever used a single lens reflex camera. “After only using a rangefinder camera, it was amazing to me to use a single lens reflex because the images were so much intense,” he recalled. Within a year, Whitacre decided to give up his job at Meininger’s and work part-time as a photographer – although he credits his background and training in art as being an important influence on his photographic work. One of Whitacre’s early mentors in photography was Tracy Rogers, a Denver photographer.
Whitacre’s first major account was Colorado National Bank, for which he photographed a series of public relations photographs. He also documented the construction of the Colorado National Bank Tower from 1973-1976, and the bank sponsored an exhibit of Whitacre’s portraits of construction workers who worked on the new bank building. In 1973, Whitacre began a ten-year stint photographing the Denver Symphony Orchestra. (Whitacre’s photograph is on the cover of the 1983 Denver Symphony Live at Boettcher Hall album.) Other major accounts during the early years of his photographic business included Van Schaack and Frederick Ross and Company, during which time he photographed many of Denver’s commercial buildings. Also in the 1970s, Roger began doing photographs for Historic Denver Inc., which lead to a specialty in historic architecture, including photographs for several books on Denver history (many in cooperation with Denver historian Tom Noel), and Historic American Buildings Survey and Historic American Engineering Record photo-documentation. Working in cooperation with Front Range Research Associates, Inc., a cultural resource documentation firm in Denver, Whitacre also photographed many of Colorado’s historic properties. Other long-term clients included the Denver Public Library (for which he photographed construction photographs of the main and branch libraries during the 1990s), IBM, InterGroup Architects, Long Hoeft Architects, Fairchild Publications, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission (for which he did much of the photography for that company’s Network publications between 1987-2005).
Whitacre’s photographs were published in at least 16 books between 1979 and 2005, including Boettcher Hall Commemorative Book (1979), Denver Rocky Mountain Gold (1980), Denver, Denver’s Larimer Street (1981), The City Beautiful (1987), Colorado State Capitol, Pride of Our People (1992), and Riding High, Colorado Ranchers and 100 Years of the National Western Stock Show (2005). Whitacre’s photographs are on permanent display in the Colorado State Capitol, and in the photographic collection of the Western History Department of the Denver Public Library. Whitacre’s photographs were included in the Buildings Reborn traveling exhibit, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution in 1980. A display of Larimer Street photographs were exhibited at the Denver National Bank in 1981. He has received awards from the American Institute of Architects, the Denver Public Library, the Sierra Club, the Minolta Camera Corporation, and the Art Director’s Club of Denver.
Although much of his commercial work was in color, Whitacre prefers working in black-and-white. Among the photographers whom he most admires are Elliot Porter, Henry Cartier Bresson, and Charles Scheeler.
Whitacre is married to Christine Salach Whitacre, and has two children, Emily and William.
What a wonderful exhibit. It is truely a blessing that he has given his collection to the Denver Public Library to archive and take care of. Without the support of wonderful people like Roger, the collection would just grow stagnant. It's nice to have such a wonderful collection here at the library.
I have long been a fan of Roger Whitacre's photography, particularly his black and white images. He has photographed some of Denver's most iconic buildings with a deft hand and keen eye. It's wonderful, and appropriate, that his work will be be kept at the Denver Library's Western History art gallery so future generations of Denverites and Coloradans can enjoy his work. Well done, Roger!