Robert McNeill's interest in photography was sparked during a demonstration in a high school physics class. At the age of eighteen his first photograph, that of Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens, was published in five Washington-area newspapers.
After attending Howard University as a pre-med major in the mid-1930s, McNeill left to study at the New York Institute of Photography. He completed the program in 1938 and immediately established himself as a free-lance photographer. Later that year he was appointed a photographic consultant to the WPA Federal Writers Project and traveled throughout Virginia photographing people at work in rural and urban areas. His pictures were published by the WPA in a book titled The Negro in Virginia.
After serving three years in the U.S. Army during World War II, McNeill returned to Washington and established the McNeill News Photo Service. Commissioned by the United Negro College Fund to document the efforts of eleven of its member colleges to establish postwar education programs for veterans, he compiled more than a thousand black-and-white images chronicling these programs. From 1949 to 1950 he operated Gem Photographers in Washington and then worked for the federal government as a photographer at the Naval Gun Factory, the Army Signal Corps, and the Naval Ordnance Laboratory. In 1956 he took a position as portrait photographer at the Department of State, retiring in 1978 as chief of the Photo Branch, Audio-Visual Services Division. McNeill lives in Washington, D.C.
National Museum of American Art (CD-ROM) (New York and Washington D.C.: MacMillan Digital in cooperation with the National Museum of American Art, 1996)