July 12, 2003
The Briscoe Center for American History mourns the loss of photographer and journalist Bruce Roberts. Roberts died on June 16, 2023. The center is home to the Bruce Roberts Photographic Archive.
“Bruce Roberts was a gifted photographer whose work has had a significant influence on how we understand our nation, especially the South,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “His work captured the natural beauty of America, notably our nation’s iconic lighthouses. But his career also contains valuable coverage of American political and socioeconomic history, such as his work documenting segregation and his depictions of life in Appalachia. He was a good friend to the center, and we are proud to preserve his photographic legacy for future generations.”
Bruce Stuart Roberts was born on February 4, 1930, in Mount Vernon, New York. He graduated from New York University in 1951, and served two years in the Air Force, reaching the rank of staff sergeant. He began his career in photojournalism as a reporter for the Tampa Tribune, and he went on to work for the Lumberton Post, the Scottish Chief, and the Hamlet News-Messenger, all located in North Carolina. His work caught the eye of Pete McKnight, legendary editor of the Charlotte Observer, and Roberts was asked to join the team as a staff photographer. As noted in Roberts’s obituary, the Observer team “pioneered the use of the 35-mm camera and natural light for newspaper photography. Bruce saw this as the truest and most direct way to tell a story with candid, unposed pictures.” Roberts then became the director of photography for the News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, before freelancing for 15 years (1963-1978).
Roberts joined the staff of Southern Living magazine as director of photography (1978-1982) and later senior travel photographer (1982-1992). His work appeared in many national publications including Time, Life, Sports Illustrated, and Time-Life Books. Roberts was named the Southern Photographer of the Year in both 1959 and 1961, and he received first place awards in the National Press Photographers Association news pictures competition in 1959, 1960, and 1961. He has written or had his photographs published in over 30 books.
Roberts was honored as a “Keeper of the Light” by the American Lighthouse Foundation. His photography of America’s lighthouses led to the preservation of many of America’s most historic sites. He authored or coauthored literally dozens of books on the subject with his wife, historian and author Cheryl Shelton-Roberts, and writer and publisher Ray Jones, a close friend for over forty years.
Selections from the Bruce Roberts Photographic Archive
Learn more about the Roberts Photographic Archive at the center.