When Robert Weinberg graduated from Denver’s George Washington High School during the outbreak of the Vietnam War, he hoped to become a social worker. So, he joined Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), now more commonly known as AmeriCorps, to gain experience in the field. But after VISTA moved him to St. Louis to help unemployed locals find jobs, Weinberg stumbled upon a new passion: He purchased a Canon FX film camera to photograph the people he encountered.

What began as a hobby eventually led to a lifetime of capturing the Mile High City—which is set to be commemorated by the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society and University of Denver’s Beck Archives next month. Weinberg will receive a Heritage Award—given to Jewish Colorado photographers—on Monday, May 20.

Following his stint with VISTA, Weinberg returned to Denver and worked in camera stores throughout the city while taking on freelance photography assignments for various news outlets, such as the Intermountain Jewish News. “I’m very much a journalist and enjoy photographing people and showing what they’re doing, their lives, their energies,” Weinberg says. He’s been the man behind the lens of poignant Colorado images, including a portrait (below) of Reverend Leon Kelly Jr., founder of Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives, and a shot of Pope Saint John Paul II meeting with President Bill Clinton at Regis University in 1993 for World Youth Day.

Reverend Leon Kelly Jr., photo by Robert Weinberg
Reverend Leon Kelly Jr. Photo by Robert Weinberg

Weinberg began documenting Denverites in a more whimsical way in the ’70s. Inspired by American portrait photographer Philippe Halsman, Weinberg set out to master the art of “jumpology,” or photographing people jumping—something that Halsman believed coaxed his subjects into showing their true selves. “It’s fun; people love it,” Weinberg says. “If you know who Jake Jabs [CEO of American Furniture Warehouse] is, I even got him to jump once.”

In the 1990s, Weinberg started losing his sight due to a condition called cone-rod dystrophy, which deteriorates retina cells in the eye, and today, he is legally blind. “Emotionally and psychologically, it’s just going to tear you up,” he says. “It’s like going back to school. You have to learn all kinds of new things to become independent.”

A librarian jumps outside Central Library, photo by Robert Weinberg
Rick Ashton, a jumping Denver librarian. Photo by Robert Weinberg

Over the years, Weinberg has focused his energies on becoming a mentor within the blind community, partnering with organizations like Colorado Center for the Blind, Colorado Talking Book Library, and AfterSight. “It’s a very difficult thing to deal with, and it’s important to work with people who have dealt with it,” he says. “It’s going to affect your life like you cannot believe.”

Although his progressive vision disorder prompted him to leave the photojournalism profession, he still picks up the camera as a hobby, thanks to some remaining peripheral vision. Now, Weinberg uses digital cameras instead of film, enables autofocus, sometimes uses a magnifier, and makes sure the lighting conditions are just right. “A lot of times I’m just pointing my camera in a certain direction, and I get what I get,” he says. Since losing his sight, however, Weinberg has continued to capture poignant images, including a black-and-white portrait of local dance maven Cleo Parker Robinson teaching a class and candid photos of children learning to use canes at the Anchor Center for Blind Children.

In 2023, History Colorado featured an exhibit on Weinberg’s work, complete with braille labels that he created to accompany his photographs. And this year, on May 20, the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society and University of Denver’s Beck Archives will present Weinberg with an award for his life’s work at the BMH-BJ Congregation, a synagogue in Washington Virginia Vale, at its 30th annual Heritage Award Dinner.

“To have somebody say ‘You did a lot’ is really meaningful,” Weinberg says. “I was just trying to make a living, but I had a lot of fun doing it.”

If you want to celebrate this Mile High City artist, tickets to the Heritage Award Dinner (May 20, 2024) can be bought online ($180 per person). Proceeds benefit the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society.

Barbara O'Neil
Barbara O'Neil
Barbara is one of 5280's assistant editors and writes stories for 5280 and 5280.com.