Robert began work in London as a photographer in the late ‘Fifties but he moved to Melbourne in 1961 where he began studying at the University of Melbourne and became part of the small but flourishing Melbourne arts scene. According to art historian David Mellor, it was his three years in Australia that transformed Bob’s work as a photographer. A major influence was undoubtedly his friendship with two of the leading figures of the Melbourne art world, Georges and Mirka Mora, and through them he came into contact with other major figures in Australian art and letters including John and Sunday Reed, Ian Sime, Charles and Barbara Blackman, Barrett Reid, Laurence Hope, Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan and Joy Hester, as well as his own peer group including Martin Sharp, Richard Neville, Barry Humphries and Germaine Greer.
Robert was running a freelance penthouse photo studio in Flinders Street, Melbourne when he had his fateful meeting with The Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein, during their 1964 Australian tour. His meeting came about more or less by accident, when he accompanied a journalist friend to an interview with Brian Epstein for an article for the Jewish News. The picture was published with the article, which led to his meeting with Epstein and his first shots of the Beatles -- pictures of Paul McCartney and George Harrison each holding up boomerangs presented to them by their Australian fans.
Robert Whitaker: "I photographed Epstein, saw he was a bit of a peacock and a cavalier, and put peacock feathers around his head in photographic relief. He was knocked out when he saw the picture. After that, he saw an exhibition of collages I had at the Museum of Modern Art and immediately offered me the position of staff photographer at NEMS, photographing all his artists. I initially turned it down, but after seeing The Beatles perform at Festival Hall I was overwhelmed by all the screaming fans and I decided to accept the offer to return to England ".
Bob accepted the job three months later, but before he left he spent one final Sunday at the Aspendale beach house of his friends Georges and Mirka Mora, taking a set of historic pictures which were exhibited for the first time in the Monash Gallery of Art's 2003 exhibition of his work. In one photograph, Aspendale Beach, the Mora family - Georges, Mirka and their sons Philippe, William and Tiriel - are pictured in slouched, single file on the beach with Martin Sharp and architect Peter Burns. In another photograph, Goodbye Bob, the same group of people sit holding a sign which reads: "GOD bless thee and keep thee … ASPENDALE 1964".
On his arrival in England in August 1964, Whitaker set to work photographing the members of the NEMS stable including Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas, Gerry & The Pacemakers (including cover shots for the How Do You Like It and Ferry Across The Mersey LPs) and Cilla Black (including cover shots for the Cilla and Cilla Sings A Rainbow LPs). Bob also did several photographs of the hugely successful Australian folk-pop group The Seekers, including the cover shots for Seekers Seen In Green (1967); his Seekers photos were also used for the CDs Live At The Talk Of The Town and The Seekers Complete boxed set and a more recent photo of Judith Durham was used on the cover of her 2001 solo CD Hang On to Your Dream.But it was with The Beatles and especially John Lennon, with whom he became close friends, that Bob created his most famous and enduring work. On of his first assignments was photographing The Beatles during their triumphant second American tour, including the historic Shea Stadium concert in New York. He spent the next two years travelling with the Beatles and shooting them at work, at rest and at play -- on their tours, at home, in the recording studio, during private moments, and in formal photo-sessions.