Robert Sengstacke

Robert Sengstacke


Chicago , IL – Perfection, like good wine and food takes time. And, photography holds true to the axiom.

For the past 46 years Robert A. Sengstacke, an award winning photojournalist has forged and maintained the line of cutting-edge photography and has become one of America’s foremost photographic artists. Described by the Memphis Press Scimiter as being one who is ‘in a class by himself,” Sengstacke’s unique style and approach of photography is avant-garde and has placed him at the top of his game.

Sengstacke’s sheer ability to capture and accurately depict the African American experience both its triumph and tribulation-highlights those who have stood at center of the world stage. Sengstacke has captured the famous and the infamous, the saint and the sinner, kings and the common man.

His photographs have received national as well as international recognition and acclaim. His works featuring the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have been displayed at the Statue of Liberty. Other works have appeared at the renowned Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The Schomburg Center, now part of the New York City Public Library system is a repository of 50 of Sengstacke’s King photographs.

Sengstacke is noted as the first African-American photographer from Chicagoto have a major exhibition to appear in Chicago’s Loop at the main branch of the Chicago Public Library in 1969. The New York Times in 1987 during a review of his work defined him as “one of the most significant photographers of the Civil Rights generation.”

Sengstacke stated, “My journey of self-discovery encompassed a desire to achieve a sense of contentment in reaching a plateau of success.” This journey would take him on a quest that would lead him to become the Chicago Defender’s head photographer and photo editor, Muhammad Speaks first non-Moslem staff photographer; Artist-in-residence at Fisk University; General Manager and Publisher of the Memphis Tri-State Defender; Photo assignments for Eastman-Kodak Co., and photographer for the Phil Donahue Show.

Sengstacke’s love for the visual arts began as a child, however, the gift would evolve as he first became introduced to photography when he was only 16 years old. Here, the adolescent would also embark upon entrepreneurialism as he opened and operated a very successful portrait studio in the basement of his parents home. During this same year, he also began freelancing as a photojournalist covering assignments for the youth section of the Chicago Defender, his family’s newspaper and publishing company.

Ultimately, Sengstacke’s work would lead him to travel the world over. His first travels began during his college years in Los Angeles, where he once again worked as a photojournalist for the Los Angeles Centennial newspaper. Other travels would lead him to travel globally. Here, his development as a photographic artist would forever be changed by this experience. The rich cultural influences of ancient societies of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Jamaicawould add a world-perspective and insight that further hone his craft.

After returning to the United States, his photography would be documented in publications such as the Chicago Defender and Muhammad Speaks, where even today, these works are recognized all over the world as a some of the most significant images taken of the Civil Rights Movement and the Nation of Islam. His photographs and profiles have appeared in LIFE, Ebony, Jet, Essence, The Washington Post and Spike Lee’s School Daze as well as his poster of Dr. Martin Luther King that was featured on the set of Patti LaBelle’s TV sitcom Out All Night.

Stanford University’s History Department selected 100 of Sengstacke’s photos that were used to chronicle the life and times of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Other Sengstacke works have been exhibited at The Smithsonian Institution; The DuSable Museum of African-American History, The Museum of Science of Industry, Spellman College, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Circle Campus the University of Illinois Urbana campus and the University of Minnesota.

Today, Sengstacke is president of Sengstacke Enterprises, where he has worked with clients such as Eastman-Kodak, The New York Public Library, AT&T, a number of Wall Street insurance companies, as well as some federal government agencies.

He also has been able to maintain a successful stock-photograpy business. With a shrewd knack for marketing and an almost innate business acumen, Sengstacke has been able to broker agreements that have led to his historical works being exhibited throughout the world. Additionally, he maintains a video production company that has produced over 25 mini-documentaries in the past three years.  


Sengstacke’s ability to capture and frame the human soul and spirit has elevated him to a status that is unrivaled. Sengstacke’s photos have appeared in:

The Black Photographers Annual; Negro Digest (Johnson Publications); Black Artists on Art (Samella S. Lewis & Ruth G. Waddy); The Words of Martin Luther King (Coretta Scott King); Martin & Malcolm & America (James H. Cone);

Million Man March (Michael H. Cottman, Crown Trade Paperbacks); Million Man March: Day of Absence, A Commemorative Anthology (Haki R. Madhubuti & Maulana Karenga, Third World Press);


Beyond Racism: Embracing An Interdependent Future (Overview Report/International Working & Advisory Group & The Comparative Human Relations Initiative); Walls of Heritage/Walls of Pride: African-American Murals (James Prigoff & Robin Dunitz, Pomegranate Communications, Inc.);


In Search of America (Peter Jennings & Todd Brewster, Hyperion Books); Diego Rivera: A Retrospective (Founders Society Detroit Institute of Arts & Penguin Books, Canada); Reflections In Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present (Deborah Willis, W. W. Norton & Company); Black Nationalism: A Search For An Identity In America (E. U. Essien-Udom, University of Chicago Press);


Malcolm X: The Great Photographs (Stewart, Tabori & Chang Publishers, Inc.); Collecting African-American Art (Halima Taha, Crown Publishers);

The Dream Lives On: Martin Luther King, Jr. (Sandra Millner, Metro Books); African-American Art (Sharon F. Patton, Oxford Press); In The Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Tinwood Books); KING: The Photography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Charles Johnson & Bob Adelman);


The Black New Yorkers: The Schomburg Illustrated Chronology-400 years of African-American History (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.); and Standing In The Need of Prayer: A Celebration of Black Prayer: The Schomburg Center For Research In Black Culture-The New York Public Library (Free Press) amongst countless more.  

More of Sengstacke’s photos can be found in exhibition catalogs such as: Black Photographers Bear Witness: 100 Years of Social Protest (D. Willis & H. Dodson, Williams College Museum of Art; Two Schools: New York & Chicago-Contemporary African-American Photography of the 60s and 70s (Kenkeleba Gallery, New York); On Freedom: The Art of Photojournalism (The Studio Museum In Harlem); Tradition & Conflict: Images of a Turbulent Decade: 1963-1973 (The Studio Museum In Harlem); and Southern Eye, Southern Mind: A Photographic Inquiry (The Memphis Academy of Arts).

Sengstacke’s photography is so rare and renowned that collections of his work have been procured by the likes of actor Robert Guillaume, the late comedian Red Foxx, Cook County Board President John Stroger, Adminesatrative Assistant to the Mayor of Chicago Chuck Bowden, Lester McKeever, Dr. Maurice & Madeline Rabb, Dr. Leo King of San Antonio, TX, Andrew Wright of New York City, Fisk University, Stanford University, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The Crysler Museum, Norfolk, VA, Williams College and Curator Deborah Willis.

Robert A. Sengstacke
4517 S. Praireie Avenue
Chicago , IL 60653