Disabled Photographer Still Taking Shots in Chelsea

By Mathew Katz on October 7, 2011 7:33am | Updated on October 7, 2011 10:32am

"Personal Earthquake," part of Flo Fox's new exhibition at the Carter Burden Center for the Aging.
"Personal Earthquake," part of Flo Fox's new exhibition at the Carter Burden Center for the Aging.
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Flo Fox

CHELSEA — After being born blind in one eye, photography was an obvious career choice for Flo Fox.

"I never had to close an eye to take a picture," she said. "I never had to adopt three dimensions to a flat plane."

In 1976, Fox was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and lost much of her sight in her one working eye. Now she's largely paralyzed apart from her left hand, which she uses to control her electronic wheelchair. But that hasn't stopped her from zipping around the city in a stylish hat hiding dyed purple hair, working as a street photographer.

A collection of 40 years of Fox's work  will be on display at a new exhibit at the The Carter Burden Center for the Aging’s Gallery 307 at 307 Seventh Ave.

Much of Fox's work documents the shifting, chaotic world of the city's streets, including 'Personal Earthquake,' which displays what it's like for someone in a wheelchair to go over cracks and bumps in the city's concrete.

Nowadays, the 66-year-old Fox needs some help with her work. She makes sure all of her personal attendants can take a decent picture, and keeps two cameras at all times in pockets on the side of her wheelchair. When she sees a picture she wants, she lines her assistants up to take it.

 "I'll describe what I want in the picture, and one out of every 10 times it'll turn out the way I want," she said.

Fox is a series of contradictions. She's a professional photographer who doesn't take her own photographs; she shoots mainly on film, not digital, yet she uses inexpensive autofocus cameras — which is almost sacriligeous in the world of professional photography.

"Autofocus is just so quick and easy," she said.

As she's lost mobility, Fox's photography has had to change, and that transformation will be on display in her show.

"The photos my attendants and I take now are usually still," she said. "The pictures I used to take were moving people, action shots. It's difficult to get anybody to look and shoot immediately when I say."

The upcoming exhibit at Gallery 307, a space meant to highlight older working artists, will be divided into three sections: Asphalt Gardens, a collection of street photography shot between 1972 and 1981, Madhattan, which focuses on the madness of the city, and Criptic, more recent work which covers the experiences of blind and disabled people in New York.

Photographer Flo Fox in her apartment at Selis Manor in Chelsea on Oct. 6, 2011.
Photographer Flo Fox in her apartment at Selis Manor in Chelsea on Oct. 6, 2011.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

"Flo's work has influenced photographers from the beginning," said gallery curator Marlena Vaccaro. "It's not only beautiful work, it's important work."

The new retrospective show will feature over 40 of Fox's photographs, and will run at Gallery 307 between Oct. 27 and Nov. 25.

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