Rfotofolio is pleased to share the work of photographer Matt Roberts.
Would you tell us a little about yourself?
I have been a very active photographer since the 60’s, but strictly as an avocation, not a vocation. After studying photography at Pratt Institute, I tried working as a commercial photographer’s assistant, but I hated it and decided to pursue a career outside of photography, so that I could keep my photography strictly personal. I ended up working on the business side of magazine publishing, almost all of it at Conde Nast where I had stints as the head of marketing for The New Yorker, GQ, and Vogue, among others. I retired about two years ago. I have been married to my wife, Cathy, for thirty-eight years and am the father of three grown sons, one of whom is a very gifted photographer.
How did you get started in photography?
One of my earliest memories is of looking at the catalogue for “The Family of Man” exhibit that took place at MOMA. I was hooked. My father got me a Brownie when I was in 3rd grade, and by high school I had set up a darkroom in the bathroom of our N.Y.C. apartment.
Which photographers and other artists” work do you admire?
I love the grace and empathy of Roy DeCarava and Jerry Liebling; the quiet, atmospheric beauty of Saul Leiter’s work; the ahead –of -their- time color photos of Vancouver by Fred Herzog; Dave Heath’s beautifully composed, melancholic work. Also Bill Brandt, Walker Evans, Philip Perkis, Paul Strand, W. Eugene Smith . . . . I could go on.
How has being a photographer affected your day-to-day life?
It has made me more observant and open to the beauty of the everyday. I’ve always wanted to grab the window seat.
If you could spend a day with any other photographer living or from the past who would it be?
I would spend a day out shooting with Helen Levitt or Roy DeCarava. There’s so much humanity and depth of emotion in their
work. It’s amazing how consistently they were able to capture and express it. I could learn a lot from them.
Would you share with us an image that has taught you something.
One of the earliest I took of my girlfriend (now wife) — was taken my first week of grad school at Pratt.
The assignment was to tape over your viewfinder and photograph the first hour of the day. It taught me the value of not over-thinking, to go with your instincts, and to be open to the serendipity of chance. Forty years later, the resulting out-of-focus “portrait” is still one of my favorites.
What is the inspiration for your work?
I don’t work in a single genre: I like doing street photography, landscapes, beaches, family photos . . . . I think the common inspiration is just my immediate surroundings, and trying to transform them into personal, evocative “narratives.”
What do you want people to take away from your images?
An emotion. And the pleasure of seeing something familiar or seemingly mundane in a new light.
What challenges do you face as an artist?
Having my work seen! For a long time it didn’t matter too much to me — I just wanted to create work that I wanted to look at. But now, with overflowing chests of drawers, boxes of work stuffed under beds, etc. I would like to share it more. The irony is that with the internet there are now more venues than ever in which to be seen, but there’s such an overabundance of images out there that it’s easy to get lost.
Is there one thing that you would like to tell people about your creative process?
I try to always carry my camera with me so that I am constantly looking and can be open (hopefully)
to the possibilities of whatever comes my way. I never pose or set up photographs — not that I have a
bias against that kind of photography — it just isn’t something that I’m personally interested in pursuing.
At the end of the day, I guess my main goal is to create images that I like to look at — AND go back to.
If they resonate and stir an emotion in other people, all the better.
Keep on keeping on — and try to remain true to myself. Without trying to sound too “reactionary”, that means resisting a lot of the current trends in photography, like the overly “conceptual”, thinking-over-feeling direction. I have to say, in each of the last few years, I have walked out of MOMA’s “New Photography” shows feeling very depressed about the future of the medium, despite their clear intent of stretching its boundaries. And this year, walking from the Picasso sculpture exhibit to “New Photography” was like going from the
sublime to the ridiculous (not to mention cold, mannered, emotionally empty, and completely forgettable!)
One thing I’m doing with my own work is converting series of images into video format (especially the Commute photographs.) I would love the challenge of taking over a space and showing a single day’s images — individual photos, triptychs, videos etc. We’ll see . . . .
To learn more about the work of Matt Roberts please visit his site at, Matt Roberts.