It isn’t terribly surprising to run into a celebrity, well-known artist or otherwise famous person every now and then when walking around Manhattan, though not everyone would necessarily recognize Flo Fox—yet she might be one of the most discernible people on the streets. Riding in her electric wheelchair probably donning sunglasses, perhaps wearing a hat and always with her aide Marva by her side—who may or may not have a camera up to her eye as Fox directs her—this woman is one of the most courageous and determined street photographers out there.
Documentary filmmaker Riley Hooper picked up on Fox’s incredible story and made an award-winning 10-minute film about how she navigates her unique role in street photography.
Fox became interested in photography at a young age, even though she was born blind in one eye. What some might view as an obstacle was perceived as an advantage by Fox: “Being born blind in one eye was perfect for photography,” she says in the film. “You never had to close an eye to take a photograph, you never had to change three-dimension to a flat plane.”
After her mother died from lung cancer when she was only 14 years old, she left town (her dad died when she was 2). “So I got my education on the streets,” she explains. “That’s why I can take naughty photos—nobody taught me right from wrong.” Fox is, of course, referring to her many raunchy sets of photos, including the “Dicthology” series that she talks about in this documentary. Her humor and wit has taken her down wild paths to what she calls photographic “ironic reality,” though she doesn’t need to photograph sexually explicit subject matter to achieve that humorous spin. She photographed a man sucking on a cigarette while he drives his daughter, who sucks her thumb in the back, and dubbed it “Everybody sucks.” Another time, she shot a billboard of a model who’s face was covered up by a tarp. The title: “Cover girl.”
Fox was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the 1970s, after her sight in her other eye dwindled in a way that was, as she describes in the film, like “seeing through nets, like there were two stockings over my eye.” She only saw this as a temporary problem, after the timely advent of camera autofocus. Unfortunately, her MS began affecting her ability to take her own photographs more so as she eventually lost full function of her limbs.
Today, she can no longer hold her camera or press the shutter release button, but believe it or not, that still doesn’t stop her; Marva takes photographs for her upon her instruction. One out of ten appear exactly as she pictures them, Fox estimates, while others she sometimes needs to crop a bit. But those odds aren’t so bad, considering Fox’s high spirits and natural artistic and witty eye allow her to see documentable moments wherever she goes.
“Now you see how the shots come to me, I don’t have to look for them,” Fox tells Marva. “They’re always out there.”