Roberta Thornley graduated from Auckland University's Elam School of Fine Arts in 2007. In 2011 she was the inaugural recipient of the Auckland Festival of Photography Annual Commission and in 2014 she was awarded the Whanganui Tylee Cottage Residency through the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua.
In describing her work in Art New Zealand (Winter 2010) Dr Kriselle Baker writes that "... although the cinematic quality of her photographs might evoke the dark sensuality of Bill Henson or the surreal narratives of David Lynch, the place to begin with Roberta Thornley's work is in the 'everyday' world [...] They are discrete images about the simplest and yet most evocative of ideas. Contained within each work is a sense of the efflorescence of life and the wet, dark, decaying extreme that is part of its cycle of disintegration and renewal. Her work has an underlying element of unease, as if each image marks a crucial connection between beauty, desire, and the 'bible-black' of melancholy."
Roberta has exhibited in Australia and throughout New Zealand. Her work is held in collections including Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, The Sarjeant Gallery and The Wallace Arts Trust. She lives and works in Whanganui.