My name is Gigi Stoll and I am a photographer based in NYC. Lomography recently sent me two rolls of color 35mm film and this is the first time I’ve shot film in 4 years. They suggested I choose a subject and write a story. When I mentioned this to my friend Flo, she immediately suggested that I should do the story on her and how could I refuse? I used the LC-A+ camera & Fritz the Blitz flash and the film was shot on two separate afternoons.
While walking down a Chelsea street during the summer of 1991, several 8×10 photographs caught my eye in a camera store window. I went in to inquire about the pictures and I discovered they were taken by Flo Fox, Street Photographer-Extraordinaire. All the NYC street images were printed on black and white gelatin silver paper and printed by Flo.
I then dropped $20 for the book “Asphalt Gardens, 69 Photographs by Flo Fox.” The next day on a crosstown bus my girlfriend recognized Flo from the back cover image on the book and approached her. She told Flo about my purchase the day before and how I was dying to meet her. Flo said, “tell her to call me, I am the only Flo Fox in the book.” Soon I began my weekly visit to Flo’s apartment to discuss photography and art. She taught me how to print in her bathroom turned darkroom. Besides learning how to print, Flo became my mentor. She also introduced me to my first photography show and postcard company. We also met in London, Paris and took several bus trips to Woodstock, NY. We even had an exhibit together in NYC. At that time, Flo walked with a cane.
Now in 2012, she is only able to move her left hand barely enough to drive her motorized wheelchair. Everything above her neck is completely mobile. I’ve never seen Flo in a bad mood and she doesn’t feel physical pain but she has strength enough to be a strong activist for the physically challenged. She used to build sidewalk ramps made of cement on corners for wheelchair access and also blocked buses whenever their wheelchair lifts weren’t functional. I accompanied her on several of these escapades. Whenever I wasn’t around, Flo handed her camera to trusting strangers to record her courageous feats.
I find it fascinating how Flo’s physical demise has never deterred her from taking pictures. In fact, she has never stopped. Flo Fox is now 66 years old, she is legally blind (born blind in one eye) and the other eye is visually impaired due to MS since the age of 30. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. As of yet, there is no cure for MS. In Flo’s good eye, everyone has perfect skin, something similar to grainy film.
Flo lives in Selis Manor or better known as the Associated Blind Building on 23rd Street, NYC. She is often seen driving her motorized wheelchair around the neighborhood. She has inspired several of her home attendants to become photographers. One attendant has already been published. The home attendants are the ones that push Flo’s shutter release button now.
At night, Flo is lifted into her bed by a manually operated hoyer lift. Home attendants have to do everything from washing her hair, personal hygiene, dressing her and feeding her meals. They work twelve-hour shifts; they open & read her mail, email, confide in each other, answer her calls, and accompany her everywhere.
Let’s talk shop: Flo Fox was born in Miami, Florida and was raised in Woodside, Queens. She started shooting film in 1972. Her first camera was a Minolta 101, which could also shoot double exposures. Her favorite film of choice for fifteen years was black and white Ilford HP5. For the last twenty-five years she used Kodacolor 400ASA and now uses Kodak Ultramax film. Though Flo prefers film, she is unable to print anymore so the digital revolution came just in time. Now her select images are scanned and sent directly to a photo lab for printing. At this time, her 35mm negatives number over 120,000 and are still being counted. In her linen closet are numerous archival boxes with over 2000 11”x14” silver gelatin prints.
Flo Fox’s photographs are in the permanent collection of The Smithsonian and the Brooklyn Museum. Magazine work includes: LIFE, Sculpture Review and Playboy among others. Flo was also featured in the Joan River’s film “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”. There is now a documentary film in the process of being made on Flo Fox’s life.
Flo’s work tends to range in the ironic such as her view of Greenwich Village, the old Times Square, Halloween Parades, and Graffiti. During her travels she spent time in many cemeteries photographing fascinating statuary and learning the history of the people in each town. When Flo was able bodied she did some daring photographic stunts, such as the day she hung over the roof’s edge of The World Trade Center and photographed the construction workers on scaffolding who were building the tower. Besides her film Flo always carries a smile in her pocket. Flo Fox remains my inspiration.
After many years as a model, these days Gigi is on the other side of the camera taking portraits and traveling the world as a humanitarian photographer. You can see what she’s into on Pinterest or follow her on facebook or twitter . Want to learn more about Gigi, check out her 5 Questions on Analogue Photography