Rod Rolle
Rod Rolle Credit: Erika Urech

Community members are invited to a reception to celebrate and recognize those who have supported Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee of Santa Barbara (MLKSB) — and to honor Rod Rolle, MLKSB’s official photographer.

Rolle, who has been with the organization since its inception in 2007, has captured the historical images of MLKSB’s supporters over the past 16 years at the annual MLK Day commemoration.

The upcoming reception, which takes place 5:30-7 p.m. Friday, July 14 at Soul Bites, 423 State St., Santa Barbara, will include music and refreshments.

“It’s been an honor to have experienced Rod’s ability to capture shots that are not only engaging but highlight a moment in time,” said MLKSB Board President, E. onja Brown.

“He is a treasured local renaissance man who in addition to his work as a professional photojournalist is also a well-known jazz drummer and singer, having played with the Stiff Pickle Orchestra in town for three decades.”

A Santa Barbara-based freelance photographer, Rolle began working with the MLKSB to document its service to the community.

Events included MKL Jr. Day celebrations 2008, City of Santa Barbara MLK, Jr. Resolution 2013; MLKSB Thank You Event 2015; UCSB Eternal Flame 2016; Movies That Matter With Hal Conklin 2017;  Ring Shout 2017;  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 50th Anniversary 2018;  Congregation B’Nai B’rith 2019;  Poor People’s Campaign 2022; and Berkshire Hathaway Donates 2023.

Rolle began taking pictures under the mentorship of New York photographer Frank Silva, and his first published photo was in the New York Daily News (1975).

His early photographs appeared in a number of publications including the New York Amsterdam News, Charlotte Observer and News.

His work often captured the occasions – some special, some everyday – that told the story of that moment.

From Queens, New York, Rolle came to Santa Barbara to attend The Brooks Institute of Photography in 1982. At Brooks, he met other Black photographers who all had similar experiences documenting their black communities.

The group organized their first exhibition, Black Styles, Black Spaces, then joined with Shirley Kennedy to have their first MLK Jr. photo exhibit at Santa Barbara’s Eastside Library in 1986.

The group displayed two more exhibits, one called A Day in The Life Of Santa Barbara’s Invisible Culture, in which 13 Black photographers dispersed on one day around town to document Santa Barbara’s Black community.

Images included Brother Brown’s Barbershop, The Golden Bird Restaurant, the Dennis Palmer Elks Lodge, and everyday life in the black community.

In 1988-89, Rolle made frequent trips to Guadalupe over a period of one year to chronicle the mural and community in tandem with artist Judy Baca’s Guadalupe Mural Project.

Rolle and Baca were commissioned by the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission through the county’s Percent for Arts Program.

Following Baca’s request to create a photographic concept reflecting Guadalupe, Rolle suggested they invite the entire population of Guadalupe to gather in the town’s Main Street for a “self-portrait.”

On April 29, 1989 “The Big Picture” was taken, and remains an enduring vision of the community.

Rolle expressed gratitude for the cooperation of the community, “to take a picture that became a marker in time.”

“The Big Picture” and other photographs from the project were subsequently exhibited in “World Wall: A Vision of the Future Without Fear” at the Smithsonian Institution: Experimental Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Baca’s Guadalupe Mural remains on view at the Guadalupe City Hall.

Since,1989, Rolle has distinguished himself in the twin fields of documentary photography and photojournalism.

As a stringer for Gamma Liaison Picture Agency and Getty Images, he documented the opening of the “Biosphere” in the Arizona Desert; Vatican Advance Technology Telescope; Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 6 (Slic 6); The Grammy’s; California wildfires, Northridge and Paso Robles earthquakes; Alaska Airlines Crash; La Conchita Mudslides; O.J. Simpson trials; and Los Angeles Riots.

Rolle’s photograph of Michael Jackson standing on top of an SUV outside the Santa Maria Courthouse won him a spot in Getty Images’ Pictures of the Year Collection (2004).