Photos by Flo Fox via NYMag
“Take a look at this and let me know what you think,” he said.
“Who is it?” I replied curiously.
“Just look at it and let me know what you think,” he said as he walked away.
So I sat down and paged through the book not knowing what to expect, but I immediately knew I was looking at street photography. The work was by Flo Fox. Her son was an acquaintance of Cary’s and had showed up that night with a copy of the book.
I paged through all 69 plates and was amazed by the work. For some, it might not be a revelation, after all, we’ve seen enough gritty black and white street photography from New York, right? But paging through it I was again reminded how a strong personal vision from a passionate and devoted photographer can transcend the “everything under the sun has been done” attitude we tend to carry along with us.
I showed the book to James Turnley and his reaction was the same as mine. We knew we wanted to put together a post, but were told it might be tricky because she doesn’t have many photographs on the web.
Today I finally got around to doing some research and very quickly I realized there was more to this story. Little did I know the other night, but Flo suffers from MS and had been legally blind for over 30 years.
“According to her, she was an automatic photographer because she never needed to close an eye to take a picture. She lost the vision in her other eye in 1975 and was declared legally blindjust at the time that she photographed herself nude for Playboy and Penthouse. It was at this time that one of Flo’s sisters was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Soon thereafter Flo began experiencing numbness in one of her hands and legs and had herself tested for MS. The results were positive. She has remained determined to not let this news change anything in her career as a fine arts photographer. This has not been easy with her direction in the medium which is predominately street imagery of people and places predominately set in New York City.” [via Alternative Photography & EV Grieve]
The story takes another twist. One of the top results on Google for Flo Fox was an article in New York Magazine about Flo’s chance meeting with Joan Rivers which lead to an appearance in Joan’s documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.
As we talk, she maneuvers her electric wheelchair through the cramped but tidy one-bedroom, where photo binders are stacked in the linen closet and an aerial shot of the Flatiron Building hangs over her bed. This is where, on Thanksgiving 2008, she got a knock on the door from Joan Rivers. The comedian was doing her annual delivery of hot meals for God’s Love We Deliver, documentary crew in tow. As seen in Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Rivers was taken aback by Fox’s photographs and later tears up as she watches (on YouTube) a 1980 Tom Snyder interview with a still-vigorous Fox. Back then, Fox was a sassy downtown art star. “I thought, ‘Here’s a girl who’s such a New Yorker—smart, edgy, bohemian,’ ” Rivers says to me now. “And how unfair, that this is where it lands. [But] a New Yorker’s a fighter.” Fox, who received a standing ovation at a recent screening of A Piece of Work, views the past few decades less drastically. “There’s a lot of heaviness,” she says, her voice muddied by the lung cancer she’s been treating since 2005. “You just take a deep breath, take funny photos, and not give a shit.” [via NYMag]
You can watch the clip from the documentary on Youtube. And while you’re there you’ll probably stumble upon a few more videos about Flo including segments from a show she hosted in the ’80s. This one features Ralph Gibson.
Ideally, I’d put the book in your hands and allow you to view the photographs the way they’re suppose to be viewed, but since that’s not possible, you’ll have to settle for this video Flo put together.
Stories like this remind me that photographs have a life of their own once they’re out in the world. Sometimes you just have to go out, do the work you’re passionate about and let the photographs fall where they may.