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George Forss, 80, Photographer Discovered on the Street, Dies

George Forss, 80, Photographer Discovered on the Street, Dies
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George Forss, 80, Photographer Discovered on the Street, Dies

George Forss, 80, Photographer Discovered on the Street, Dies

In the 1980s, a street photographer named George Forss sold his black-and-white photos of the Empire State Building and Central Park to tourists for $ 5 each. Like so many New York street vendors, he was just trying to make money. But his images stood out from the typical fare.

For him, New York was the emerald city and its cityscapes represented a bright and majestic metropolis.

By framing the grandeur of the Brooklyn Bridge, he captured the masses who cross it daily. As fog swept over New York Harbor, he photographed the Statue of Liberty apparently trying to peer through the haze, waiting for another immigrant ship. And in what has become his best-known photo, he photographed the Queen Elizabeth 2 sliding past the World Trade Center Twin Towers under dark, ominous skies.

He died at age 80 on July 17 at his home in Cambridge, NY, at the foot of the Adirondacks. Its representative, Phyllis Wrynn, director of the Park Slope Gallery in Brooklyn, said the cause was heart failure.

For those who rushed past Mr. Forss on the sidewalks of Midtown Manhattan, he was just another street hawker. But that all changed in 1980, when famous photojournalist David Douglas Duncan met him near Grand Central Terminal and was fascinated by his work. A former Life magazine photographer, Mr. Duncan has decided to use his influence to promote Mr. Forss.

Mr. Duncan published a book of photographs, “New York / New York: Masterworks of a Street Peddler,” through McGraw-Hill in 1984, and it caused a sensation to Mr. Forss. “Astonishment, disbelief, excitement, confusion and admiration held me captive as my eyes scanned the vendor’s display of prints on a sidewalk,” wrote Mr. Duncan, who died in 2018, in the introduction.

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The jacket carried the praises of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gordon Parks and Norman Mailer. Ansel Adams was taken by Mr. Forss’ high contrast image of the Rocket Thrower sculpture in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. He wrote: “I haven’t seen a photograph of the past few years so sharp and insightful.”

Reviewing a Forss program the following year at the New York Public Library in Midtown, Richard F. Shepard of the New York Times called Mr. Forss “the master of perceptions of the city’s strength and beauty. in a way that little, if any. , others have succeeded in doing so.

He appeared on the “Today” show and was the subject of a BBC documentary. An exhibition of his photos was held at the Brooklyn Museum and the International Center of Photography in Manhattan acquired his work. Mr. Forss started charging $ 20 for his photos and gradually stopped jostling himself on the sidewalks.

“It’s a whole new life for me,” he told The Times in 1985. “I was deteriorating on the streets.”

Much of the attention he received was focused on the adversity of his life. Raised in orphanages, he grew up in the Bronx with polio, which made him recluse as a child, and found the escape when he discovered photography in his twenties.

After his career took off, things got odd at times in interviews when he spoke about his belief in an ancient race of aliens who, as he put it, had telepathically communicated with him when he was alive. in the Bronx. He believed that they gave him his creative talents and helped him out of difficult times.

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Mr. Forss bought his first camera from a pawnshop on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan and then mastered the art of building his own cameras from old parts. Working as a bicycle courier, he set his sights on New York City as he cycled through the city, and soon after began selling his prints.

With his modest profits, he supported his crippled mother in the dilapidated frame house they shared in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, where he had built a darkroom. One of the first portrait subjects was her one-eyed cat, Bingo.

“Of course, I have a lot of resentment,” Mr. Forss said in an interview with Popular Photography magazine in 1984. “But that won’t show in my work. I want to be brought up and brought up to the level of a beautiful place.

His time in the spotlight would not last.

When he shot promotional images for Mercedes-Benz, his photos were deemed unusable and he ignored the rejection. After a potential client asked him to photograph a series of American cities, starting with Cleveland, he bombed the interview and lost his job.

“What are you photographing in Cleveland anyway?” he told The Times in 1984. “There is no place like New York.”

George Forss was born on May 4, 1941 in the South Bronx. Her father, Hank, was a tough guy who was deported to Finland after George was born. Her mother, Norma, was an amateur photographer who camped in the city with a camera and flash to take pictures of celebrities. Although details are scarce, social workers in town had apparently taken George out of his mother’s care.

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After leaving the orphanage system in his late teens, George reunited with his mother, who suffered from crippling osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis. They bonded through their love of photography and he became her guardian.

In the late 1980s, as his rent in Brooklyn rose, an uncle left Mr. Forss a small inheritance. He used it to buy a storefront building on Main Street in Cambridge, opening a gallery on the ground floor, where he sold his work and represented local artists. He lived with his mother and his half-brother, Mickey, in Cambridge, where he became known as an eccentric figure. Sometimes a client who noticed a black and white photograph of New York City in their gallery would ask, “Is that a George Forss?” “

He is survived by his half-brother Mickey as well as another half-brother, Donald, and his partner, Donna Wynbrandt.

As Mr. Forss moved to the upstate, his interest in alien life only intensified. In 2007, he self-published a book, “Enos”, in which he detailed his communications with aliens and wrote about alien experiences in a blog. He became an avid UFO investigator who drove through the region in a Volkswagen van to verify information on sightings he had received.

When Mr Forss searched the skies for alien life, he also pointed his camera upwards, hoping to photograph the beauty of something cosmic and incomprehensible.

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