LAS VEGAS (KSNV) — Much of the history of Southern Nevada is recorded by professionals. Newspapers, television stations, museums, the Las Vegas News Bureau and more all are dedicated to documenting our past.
Some of the most fascinating films and photographs come from people who did it as a hobby, rather than professionally. That’s certainly the case with an exhibit now on display at UNLV Special Collections. It's a select group of pictures taken by a man you probably haven't heard of before: Robert Woodruff.
"We were attracted by the fact that he took so many photographs of different things," says Special Collections Curator Peter Michel. "The time period he was here. He came here in 1937."
Michel assembled the exhibit along with Curator for Visual Materials Aaron Mayes, when they had both determined that the photographs were different than what they’d seen here before. As though Woodruff were just wandering around the downtown area with his camera and no set plan.
"He would see something like luggage lying out on the street," says Michel. "Thought, 'What an interesting image.' And he would just go and start shooting."
This would have been easy for him to do, as Woodruff was raising a family just off Fremont Street.
"We lived at the pool," says Ann Campbell.
"Mermaid swimming pool, which was the first pool here," clarifies Kay Bigglestone.
Woodruff's daughters came down to UNLV to observe the installation of the exhibit. They say their father enjoyed taking photographs, but also sold photo supplies and developed pictures.
"I think he liked the artistic side more, but he had to have something to make money to raise all of us," says Campbell with a laugh.
He started by working for Sears, which was located on Fremont just east of 5th Street at the time. Then he branched out on his own.
"And then he opened up Basic Photo in Henderson," says Campbell.
"Woodruff's Basic Photo," chimes in Bigglestone.
While operating out of downtown Henderson, Woodruff would still make frequent trips back to Fremont Street to capture parades, people or just random images. His daughters liked when he would venture out of the urban areas.
"To me it's the desert scene. With the tracks going toward the mountains," says Bigglestone, recalling a favorite picture.
"He liked all of those," adds Campbell, describing pictures that illustrate the passage of time. "The falling down barns and the crooked fence."
"He was able to capture some really unique images of Las Vegas that you don't always see," summarizes Michel.
If Robert Woodruff's photography wasn't appreciated by the general public in his lifetime, it has a chance to be examined today. His collection is on display on the third floor of UNLV's Lied Library, on Harmon east of Swenson, through the end of the current UNLV semester.
Woodruff moved from Las Vegas to Sedona in 1986, where he passed away in 1992.