Mattapan Square’s loss is Morton Street’s gain
While several new developments are poised to make their debut in Mattapan Square in the new year, one veteran merchant has decided to make a move to a new part of the neighborhood. Roberts Photo Studio recently relocated to Morton Street after nearly four decades at the corner of Cummins Highway and River Street.
“I‘m proudest of being able to do exactly what I wanted during my entire career. That was a real blessing,” said Desie Roberts, 66, owner and master photographer of the studio.
Roberts, who immigrated to Boston from Antigua in 1966, found his passion for photography at the age of 18. By 1973, Roberts began operating his studio out of his Selden St. home, where he still lives today, building his clientele through documenting local events, parties and social gatherings.
“It was tough at the beginning,” Roberts recalls. “I was starting without any real money or knowledge of running a business. But I was determined to keep this going and I had great support from my family.”
By the end of 1973, Roberts moved his studio to a River Street strefront, where it remained for the next 38 years. He would later go on to earn a certificate in Photography from Quincy College in 1977 and join several professional photography associations.
“Mattapan was very different when I started,” Roberts said. “I think there were only two black business owners in the Square at the time: the owner of Brighams (an ice cream parlor that has since closed) and myself.”
The studio’s long history bore witness to the evolution of Mattapan Square and the greater community. With changes to the community’s demographics, Roberts would eventually expand his services, offering wedding and graduation photography, various types of portraiture, and photo restoration. Notably, the studio has been a local source of immigration and passport photography, which grew in demand as Mattapan’s Haitian and immigrant population swelled.
Roberts was also on hand for several community events through the years, such as Fox 25’s “Zip Trip” or the announcement of Mattapan’s entry into the Boston Main Streets program, both last year. The studio’s walls are also graced with photos of several celebrities that Roberts had the opportunity to capture on film, as they passed through Mattapan or elsewhere. The faces include Bob Marley, Sugar Ray Leonard, Larry Bird, and Senators John Kerry and the late Ted Kennedy.
The 2008 housing market crash and following recession took a toll on Roberts’ studio. Combined with the negative effects of new technology and the Internet on the photography industry, Roberts soon found out that he would have to relocate the studio to a smaller venue in order to stay afloat. He made it a priority to stay in Mattapan, however, and settled on a storefront near the intersection of Morton St. and Norfolk St.
Despite the smaller space at 840 Morton St., Roberts shows no signs of slowing down and is still coming up with new services. Roberts says that he hopes to maintain the same quality of service that he has provided for the community over his long career, but also plans to take his business to the “next level.”
“I’m not going anywhere. Mattapan has been the place where my business has been nurtured and sustained,” said Roberts.