Martin Roberts’ Biography
Martin Roberts began his artistic career as a boy with a brownie box camera. Today, he is one of the most collected and “owned” artists in the country, with people seeing his works in such spectacular settings as the Venetian and Bellagio Resorts or in simple stores of main streets across America.
Martin’s work is visually appealing with a detail unimaginable because he is a mixed-media artist. His work is collected as a fine art paintings, which in fact they are…but they have all started with extraordinary black and white photographs over which he layers acrylics, watercolors, and oil paints. The result is exquisite, three dimensional, extremely informal and relaxing, with cascading flowers, foliage and textured colored walls.
Mediterranean, Provence and Tuscany subjects are his specialization with series featuring Venice and Rustic English Cottages as well. One of his most well known pieces entitled “Cardinal at the Vatican” was produced for Cardinal Hamer of the Vatican. His exhibitions have included the Leica Gallery in Manhattan; a distinction so rarely given to American artists.
“I want to create a work of art with a composition so compelling that my collectors say that this is something that they must own. Not because of the financial rewards it brings me, which in fact is nice…but it is so extremely flattering that people whom I have never met have my work
hanging in their homes.”
Not long after the beginnings of photography in the mid-1800s, hand-tinted colors were applied to black and white photos to enhance the image and create the appearance of color. This process continued to grow in popularity until the emergence of color film. A renewed interest in hand-tinting came about in the 1960s and appears, once again, to be gaining popularity.
While some people indulge in photo tinting for fun these days, adding color to black and white Photos has been a passion of Orange County artist/photographer Martin Roberts for more than 25 Years.
“I’m the only person I know who shoots black and white film in the tropics,” he said.
Roberts describes his work as hand painted, rather than hand-tinted. He uses acrylics, watercolors, gouaches and oils–often on the same piece to create different shades and textures.
“I consider my work hand painted since I use a variety of paints, layering and adding color until the work becomes an art itself,” he said. “The colors vary between the different mediums. That’s why I use many types of paint.” I look for what is going to give the best color. My goal is to emulate a striking realism in the work. I want the colors to be believable.”
His interest in painting and photography has over the years become a successful career–his prints are sold throughout the world and have enabled him to be represented in some of the most prestigious galleries in the world.
“Essentially, hand-tinting is a process that attempt to turn black and white photo into a color photograph,” said Roberts.
“Some people go for the surreal look; neon green grass, purples, sky colors that aren’t found naturally.”
Most beginning hand-tinters use photo oils, specially prepared colors (available in most art supply stores) designed to tint photographs, rather than the paints Roberts prefers. However, he says, no amount of hand-tinting or painting can “save” a poor quality photo. The strength of the work comes from the strength of the image.
Martin Roberts first shoots his pictures in black & white, then layers on a variety of different paint.
“The image is only as strong as the photograph,” he said. “You want something that will emotionally move people. The photo has to be able to stand on its own without any paint on it. I don’t just pop out of a car and shoot a cow and paint it purple. I’m trying to shoot the perfect image. Something magical. No amount of paint or effort will save an image that’s not substantial.”
Lucky timing has blessed some of his photos, but sometimes a more direct approach has served him. While shooting an archway in the Vatican, Roberts noticed a priest proceeding in the direction he was going to shoot.
“I approached the gentleman, explained that I was a professional photographer and asked him if he would mind walking through the portico so I could have him silhouetted against a statue at St. Peter’s Basilica.
“He looked at me and said, “I’m not going that far.” “But you’ll do it for me won’t you?” I asked. “He smiled and nodded and then proceeded through the archway. Just before he reached that point, he took off his hood and I saw the red cardinal’s cap. The gentleman was Cardinal Hammer, one of 13 cardinals who live at the Vatican.
“That shot is one of my most popular and in fact, an original hangs in the Vatican today.”
PHOTOS: Applying Colorful Hand to Black, White Images
“I don’t always paint the colors exactly as they were,” he said.
“Sometimes I’ll try to brighten a picture or try a slightly different look. But the color photo is a good way to help me remember exactly how the scene looked at the time I was shooting it.”
Every year, Roberts makes two trips, packing his Leica cameras with him.
“I travel with my father, who is in his 70s,” Roberts said. “He is also a photographer and taught me everything I know.”
Among Roberts many series of works, two standouts are “The Old Country” series and a “Tropical” series.
“I’m trying to shoot the perfect image. Something magical. No amount of paint or effort will save
an image that’s not substantial”
The Old Country scenes are set in southern Europe: Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Greece. The Tropical series focuses on scenes from the Caribbean, Samoa, Fiji and Guam. He is currently working on a new series with deserts, rodeos and other Western motifs. With the Old Country series, Roberts strives for a classic feeling: gondoliers against textured walls, bright clothes drying on clotheslines stretched across windows, an elderly man reading a newspaper in front of a European coffeehouse.
“In the last five years, people have become more interested in photography as an art form,” he said.
“You see serious collectors looking at photographs for the first time. The public is beginning to appreciate the collection and the beauty of these pieces. When art collectors begin to appreciate photography, an interest in hand-painting or tinting generally follows.”
The initial process of painting usually takes about two days. “On the first piece, I’m experimenting a bit” he said.
“As I become more comfortable with the colors and textures, it takes less time. As I work on the image, I become a little braver. I think each subsequent piece is produced faster and probably, a little better than the piece before it.
Among his most popular prints is a photograph called, “Four Windows.” This features brightly painted green and blue shuttered windows, with lace curtains and window boxes of red geraniums.
A Roberts’ favorite piece is titled, “The Nice Lady’s Garden,” a scene shot in Italy of twisting vines and blooming flowers. An elderly woman stands near a fence, scowling at the photographer.
“I call it ‘The Nice Lady’s Garden’ because she really wasn’t a very nice lady,” said Roberts with a laugh.
“Nice Lady’s Garden”
See Dan Witte’s biography
and comments by Martin Roberts below.
Dan Witte’s Biography
Dan Witte was introduced to photography as an art form, years before achieving commercial success, by way of his father who was developing his own black & white images. Extensive darkroom experience as well as years of on location black and white imaging, has resulted in an unmistakable dramatic style in keeping with the world’s best known photographic artists.
Dan specializes in subjects ranging from the natural wilderness to rustic European. He makes his home in the Laguna Beach art colony with his family.
Martin’s Comments on Creative Partner, Dan Witte
I have known Dan longer than his sons, now 21 & 18, or the mother of his children and 2nd wife Fabienne. We ran in a circle of creative friends at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton; a place we termed “sugar mountain” for some who were well-healed, but believe me, we never had the silver spoons from our beloved working-class families.
We traveled and photographed the world when we didn’t have a dime, nearly getting swept away in South America as we attempted to cross rivers in our mortgaged truck or hiding from the Bolivian revolution as we sneezed in the tear gas. Now we can afford to travel, take the family, and not have to look for a sixty-six cent hotel room.
I love working with Dan. He is an avid image-maker, always shooting, never giving a damn whether his photographic images earned a penny. I do what I do, and Dan has always believed in it. Dan does what he does, and in the process my work has benefited beyond explanation by his input in compositional design, color sensibilities, and of course utter graphic genius. In short, when I sell a piece…we sell a piece.
Dan keeps me grounded as he is my harshest critic. The worst thing is to be surrounded by false flattery such as new age parents who will tell a child that everything they do is remarkable.
What many people don’t know is that virtually every image I do has a counter-part full color photograph which Dan has taken, which in many cases serves as a guide to the hand painted color pallet.
Dan’s own full color work transcends the boundaries of what the public expects in as color photograph, one of my favorites shown on this page, because he shoots like he’s handling black&white film. (Which he shoots every bit as well) Dan’s photographs are sold along side mine in places like our gallery in the Venetian Hotel and distributed in thousands of our retail dealers.
It’s fun to share.