06 July 2010

Cali Boys | Mel Roberts vs Jimmy Stone

Jimmy Stone photographed by Mel Roberts, California Boys

The work of Mel Roberts showcases the male physique blossoming amidst Southern California’s most breathtaking landscapes between 1959 and 1980. From Mulholland Drive and Point Dume to Palm Springs and the Angeles Crest National Forest, Roberts’ Rolleiflex embraces a spirit of wholesome masculinity and a vision of man in the natural environment.

Roberts was openly gay when he was drafted to the United States Air Force during WWII. He met his first lover during basic training, and continued to serve as a cameraman in the South Pacific. After leaving the service, Roberts graduated from USC Film School and worked as a cinematographer and film editor through the 1950’s with projects at Columbia, Universal and United Artists.

Roberts also founded the California branch of the Mattachine Society, the first gay rights activist group in the country. Meetings were held in Roberts’ home, an environment of free love energized by drugs, music and male bonding. It is among these friends and lovers that Mel Roberts began his career in male erotica.

Because frontal male nudity was considered obscene, and commercial color processing photo labs could not legally develop such content, Roberts learned to develop color photos in his home. He soon became one of the most prominent male photographers of the period, with his work being published internationally. Between 1977 and 79, Roberts was the target of two LAPD raids on his home studio, with police confiscating everything, from darkroom equipment to mailing lists, for over a year. In 1981, shortly before the AIDS crisis broke, Roberts put down his camera.

In the summer of 2007 Mel Roberts passed away in Los Angeles, California. At the time of his death, he resided in the same home in Bel Air in which he lived in for over 50 years. Many of the photographs in his books, magazines and videos were shot in the house and around the back garden.

Don Anderson photographed by Mel Roberts