Roberta Bayley was born in Pasadena, California, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area where she was an avid music fan and saw the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Who, the Byrds, and Bob Dylan, among many others. She attended San Francisco State University for three years before moving to London in 1971, where she worked briefly for Malcom McLaren and Vivienne Westwood at their Kings Road store Let It Rock.
Arriving in New York in the spring of 1974, Bayley soon began working the door at CBGBs, New York’s legendary punk club. She started photographing the musicians who played there and soon went to work as chief photographer for Punk magazine, which gave the movement its name. She is one of the main photographers to visually chronicle the early punk rock scene, from 1975 through the 80s.
Among the artists Bayley has photographed are Iggy Pop, the Ramones, Debbie Harry and Blondie, Richard Hell, Elvis Costello, the Sex Pistols, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Ian Dury, Brian Eno, Nick Lowe, The Damned, The Clash, The Dead Boys, X-Ray Spex, Squeeze, and a reunited New York Dolls.
Bayley's photographs are featured in countless books and magazines on punk. She co-wrote Patti Smith: An Unauthorized Biography (Simon & Schuster, 1996) and published her own book on Blondie titled Blondie Unseen (Plexus) in 2006. She appeared on screen as a hooker in the gritty independent feature film Downtown 81, which starred Jean Michel Basquiat and chronicled New York’s downtown art scene of the 80s.
Bayley’s photographs have been exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Berlin, Sydney, Paris, Austin, Portland, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Hong Kong, London, Mexico City, and Pittsburgh. Even Connecticut.