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Roberts, Mel (b. 1923)  
page: 1  2  3  

When a few of Roberts's photos were included in a group show in San Diego in 1999, they were seen and admired by erotic publisher David Aden Sprigle. His company, Fotofactory Press, went on to publish two books of Roberts's photographs: California Boys (2000) and The Wild Ones (2001), considered by critic Christopher Birch as "among the defining books of mid-twentieth-century California." Fotofactory also issued a series of cards bearing Roberts's images.

Roberts is appreciative of the newfound interest in his work. No longer considered merely a physique photographer, he is now regarded as a serious artist. His images have achieved a level of critical success he never expected.

In Frontiers Magazine, for example, Jack Shamama described Roberts's "lush colorful photos" as creating "a gay fantasia-- a picturesque version of '60s and '70s sunny California, replete with confidently smiling all-American boys diving into and getting out of the same swimming pools David Hockney . . . was painting at the same time."

The New Yorker review of Roberts's 2003 ClampArt show in New York, "The Boys of Summer," commented on his "witty, buoyant Technicolor pictures," which capture "all the giddy delights of being young during summertime."

In a review of a 2005 exhibit of Roberts's images at Los Angeles's Erotic Museum, Lauren Collins observed that the photographs are not merely beautiful and erotic, but also subversive: "Roberts uses his photos to suggest that the California male was a model of manhood for generations of Americans, yet he deliberately turns this assumption on its head by focusing on forms of gay sexual expression."

A writer in Hero Magazine put Roberts's work in perspective: "Before Bruce Weber, Tom Bianchi and Herb Ritts, there was Mel Roberts!"

Roberts's photography is now represented in galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Palm Springs. Private collectors around the world have paid thousands of dollars for his brilliantly colored, large-format prints. One of the most avid, Sir Elton John, acquired almost sixty images for his personal collection.

Now in his eighties, Roberts is healthy and energetic, but he is not tempted to pick up his camera again. A brief return to do a fashion shoot for Flaunt magazine was fun, but ultimately less than satisfying artistically. There was no way to recreate the relationships and joie de vivre that lie at the heart of Roberts's photographs from the 1960s and 1970s.

As much as they serve as documents of a bygone era, Roberts's images are also an enduring expression of a life well lived.

Barry Harrison

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Amalfitano, Madelynn. "Shooting Star." LA Weekly (February 11-17, 2005): 10.

Birch, Christopher. "California Boys: Vintage Photographs by Mel Roberts." XY Magazine (December 2003): 59-65.

Collins, Lauren. "USC Alums artwork at Erotic." Daily Trojan (January 27, 2005): 12.

Roberts, Mel. California Boys: Photographs from the 1960s and 1970s. Santa Monica, Calif.: Fotofactory Press, 2000.

_____. California Boys: The Wild Ones. Santa Monica, Calif.: Fotofactory Press, 2001.

Shamama, Jack. "In Living Color." Frontiers (June 8-21, 2005): 76-82.


    Citation Information
    Author: Harrison, Barry  
    Entry Title: Roberts, Mel  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2006  
    Date Last Updated June 17, 2008  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2006 glbtq, Inc.  


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