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Sunday, 04 October 2009

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A consummate craftsman with a "can do" attitude, Mr. Forscher will be fondly remembered by many of us as more than just the guy who fixed our cameras.

As a long-time '60s Nikon F user, from the Old World side of the pond, there were two pro-photo people who fascinated me when they were mentioned in the US magazines I regularly bought... Marty Forscher and Jay Maisel. Now you have shown a rejected Polaroid of the former (Forscher), he will stay in my mind even more because my enduring image of the latter (Maisel) was of him almost completely buried in a mountain of several thousand discarded 'Chromes.

I was raised in the (as they call it) Wonderplastik era. I'd love to own a "tool" of a camera.

Never knew the man, but have clear memories of walking into Professional Camera Repair all of twenty back in the day. In the late seventies the place looked more like a fifties newspaper office than anything remotely high tech. Small little work stations with seemingly antiquated equipment, and cameras in all states of disrepair and disassembly being examined, fitted and tested by all shapes and manner of men versed in the inner secrets that our cameras revealed only to them.

A religious experience for sure, prayers answered upon return, wrapped in a clear plastic bag with a rubber band and an invoice.

The reason is simple: cameras are now a computer with a lens. The camera industry has become a semi-conductor business.

That's reality. I, for one, will never go back to film, no matter how much I miss my mechanical Pentax.

That's why there isn't anyone taking Marty's place. And that's why cameras today cannot be customized.

The relentless march of technology.

If you prefer tools to toys, these are great times. Everyone else is throwing out the tools, so you can buy them for almost nothing.

Marty's first job was with the National Geographic.
The Big Cheese (Gilbert Grossvner?) could never remember to extend the lens on his Leica before making a picture, and gave the camera to Marty to make something which would always remind him to extend it.
Instead, Marty fitted a collar around the lens barrel so it couldn't be collapsed at all.
They fired him on the spot.
So he opened his own shop.

I remember the shop well, though I think I was only there once or twice before Forscher had retired from Professional Camera Repair. As I recall he was still involved in a company called NPC that made Polaroid backs, one of which I owned for my Canon New F-1. He was a legend.

Manhattan was once home to many fine craftspeople at the top of their trade, like Forscher, most ultimately pushed out by high commercial rents. I still play my Giardinelli custom trombone mouthpiece, made in a shop not far from Professional Camera Repair. Mr. Giardinelli eventually retired and sold the name, I gather, and now the company runs a large mail-order business from a warehouse upstate, and several of the machinists who worked for him run their own custom brass mouthpiece shops around the northeast U.S. I have copper pots and pans tinned by Atlantic Retinning, which operated in Chelsea for something like a century before high rents forced them to relocate to New Jersey. I used to love to go down there and see the warehouse with stacks of copperware piled everywhere on shelves, tables, and floors. Chuck McAlexander, one of the best brass instrument technicians, is still holding out in Chelsea with The Brasslab, though last I checked, he was sharing space with a woman who repairs instrument cases.

Spent A LOT of time at Pro Camera Repair during my years as a fledgling assistant in NYC & spoke with Marty many times. Every photographer I worked for had their cameras repaired/modified there. It's one of those places like many in the modern day that has simply disappeared from the earth. I can't even imagine any single person trying to repair a Nikon D3 (they are probably repaired by robots). I remember wondering what famous photographer I would run into every time I visited & staring with lust in my eyes as Marty explained to them how to work the various modifications he had made to their Nikon Fs or their 100000000000mm F 0.002 lenses.

I will remember Marty with awe and reverence, as I played with and used his Polaroid backed Exakta, which I had originally bought at Ken Hansen's shop on 35th Street up on the 10th Floor.

It was a time of wonderful cameras and exciting lenses, used and new. Photographers studied Art back then not which camera was coming out at what Expo.

I'm just glad I was born early enough to have experienced it and tell younger artist about it. Gone are those days but some of us are hear to relate our stories and pass the torches.

~m

Stephen, the 'tool' cameras are still available! You can still purchase a used classic metal, manual, mechancial camera from the era. A Nilon F2 or a Canon Ftb or an Olympus OM-1 and a host of other fine iron are available with a standard 50mm lens for under $100 (sometimes) plus the cost of a CLA, or clean lube and adjust by a shop. Even if you wind up with $300 in it it will be well worth it just for the look through the viewfinder and the tactile experience.

I went "awww" not "ohhh" (and I don't awww too easily) even though Marty could not fix my Leica M when I needed a now for now fix as I was only in town for the day (I would not be back to modern civilization for a year and so was a bit pressed). His reputation as a miracle worker with cameras had reached some very distant corners of the earth.

I did enjoy the ride in the elevator that had a driver though.

I really like that quote of his. Indeed tools or toys.

I bought one of those NPC Polaroid backs for my FM2N, to the tune of about five or six-hundred bucks, and never used the dang thing. I'm not even sure if I can get film for it anymore. It wasn't a very forward-looking purchase on my part since the digital era was just dawning.

Anyway, Marty seems like he was a great guy and a photographer's true friend. Rest in peace.

I remember him. Along with Modernage, 47th Street Photo, and Lee Witkin. All gone, I guess. But what the hell. We're still here.

'camera manufacturers should decide whether they are in the tool business or in the toy business.'"

This statement is never more true then it is today.

Seems like all my heroes are passing on.

Hoover

I met Mr. Forscher in the mid 80s, when I took my 15mm Nikkor to PCR for a custom job. (Replacing the built-in filters with an 80A and 85B.) I remember him as a very kind and gracious man. He gave me his business card and told me to call him in a week to see if my lens was ready. I still have his card. I still have the lens, too; haven't used it in, gosh, a dozen years, but is sits on a bookshelf. I'll look at it a bit differently now after Marty's passing.

On 2 or 3 occasions I saw Marty Forscher take a jammed up camera from a customer, hold it up to his eye, say "So whats seems to be the matter with this?" and hand a working camera back to the surprised customer.
Professional Camera Repair also fixed a couple military cameras for me that they had to machine parts from scratch to fix.
I miss him, Ken Hanson's, the Camera Barn ocean of weird used cameras, and The Light Gallery

I had several of his Pro-Backs and I did use them quite a bit all through the heyday of the Annual Report and Kodachrome era (late 80s). The made it possible to bullshit the AD or designer into signing off on almost anything, since they couldn't really evaluate the soft contact-sized Polaroid very closely. That was glorious and brilliant in itself ;-)

I remember hearing oncethat Mr. Forscher invented the "quick advancelever' that replaced the film advance knob on early Leicas?

Noah Schwartz has posted some interesting examples of adaptations done by Marty Forscher and his team, as well as a 1989 PDN article, on a photo.net gallery page (below). There's even a Diana lens mounted to what looks like a Mamiya RB67 back. The Kodak acknowledgement in the PDN page was nice.

http://photo.net/photodb/folder.tcl?folder_id=935497

With a name like Marty Forscher I suppose he had antecedents who may have come over from Central Europe. In German "Forscher" means: searcher, student, explorer, investigator, researcher, scientist.

Seems he was a bit of all of the above.

Nomen ist Omen. Some times.

Mike,

It is a fortunate person who is publicly remembered by a rememberer as eloquent as you.

Lovely post.

Robin

Rest in peace, Mr. Forscher. And thank you for fixing my Nikon FM in 1983.

Sadly, Marty is gone along with the thriving days of an era. Photography has changed from a time when photographers made photographs with tools that required the operator to supply the brain.

The tools themselves were wonders of mechanical engineering, truly fascinating. Pick up any old Nikon F or F2, Leica M2-6 +MP or Hasselblad and you will know what I'm talking about. The wind on lever, gears spinning, springs tightening, cogs setting, it's all so marvelously seductive a feeling. And then the release of all that energy into a satisfying series of sounds and sensations that gave you all the instant feedback you could ever want or need.

Photography, before the cameras were smarter than the operators, required skill and a devotion to making what is a difficult thing, the fixing of a properly exposed and focussed image on a sliver of sensitized emulsion, look easy, was a romantic time. Photographers were reasonably well paid and respected for their experience and ability to bring home the shots under any circumstance.

Alas, Marty's time has gone as we toss aside last years model for this years promise. Upgrade always is the song we sing, keeping the companies that provide us with our imaging computers flush with cash so they can provide us with the next big thing in the not too distant future.

I'm glad I'm old enough to have known Marty, even if only as an over the counter customer. Marty was a hero and savior for many of us who entrusted our precious instruments to his care. He made us whole and kept us in business. Thank you Marty.

Although I was in NYC once in the 70s, and lived in Boston 81-85 (I never quite figured out how close things were on the east coast, so I never really took advantage of it), I never did get to Professional Camera Repair, though I knew the name all along, and Marty Forscher's name. It appeared regularly in articles in Popular Photography, apart from anything else. I hadn't realized the business had closed down years ago, though. Now I'm doubly saddened, for that as well as for Marty.

This is a great time for "tools instead of toys", all right. The reason nearly everybody is shooting digital cameras is because they are better tools for what most people are shooting. Some few people are shooting film because it's better for what they shoot, and a few more are shooting film for other reasons (such as "they like it"; a fine reason, so long as it doesn't get conflated with other claims).

Never mind that he was a mechanical wizard; more important, Marty was a mensch.

I used to got to his shop my first Nikon f2 had a meter that kept shorting out every 2 months or so, Upon the 3 rd trip he grabbed my F 2 yelled at the last guy to repair it opened it up found a short fixed it in 5 minutes never had a problem again. He loved photography and took care of a generation or two of photographers. Some people are great because they are great at something. Marty was a great man for being great at something and his desire to help others

Sometimes, just sometimes, you hope there is such a thing as reincarnation...

The Times seems to have picked up the Pentax story! http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/nyregion/11forscher.html?ref=arts

I linked over to this site from the NY Times obit.

I knew Marty. Mostly as the father of my school days' friends, his sons, Gregg and Paul.

I enjoyed a lot of happiness in those days with those friends and with that family. We skied together, played together, went to movies, rode bikes, and just hung out at their Briarcliff Manor home.

My condolences for their loss of Marty, father, husband, and mensch, for sure.

I first wondered into Professional Camera Repair in the late 60's-a college student and part time pro photographer. Over the years I became a client and friends with Marty. He kept my Nikons, Leicas and Hasselblads in repair, Modified a Pentax fisheye and Leitz Telyt 400mm. for my Nikons. There was a time early in my career that a Nikon F Motor Drive had quit working. I was heading off on assignment-he kept the shop open past closing time and I walked out the door with a needed piece of equipment in working order.

In the 80's doing annual report work I purchased one of the first Forscher Polaroid Backs for my Nikon F2. It allowed you to preview shots on location that took the guesswork out of complex lighting setups. For a number of year after Marty 'retired' he would be at the Polaroid booth at the PDN Photo Expo and greet his old customers. It was a stop I looked forward to each year. The event happening later this month will be a little sadder this year knowing Marty won't be there physically. I'm sure I'm not alone in knowing his presence will be felt throughout the Javits Center.

Marty was a wonderful, inventive mensch, one of the truly good people I have met in my life. He is greatly missed not only by the thousands of photographers he helped and whose bacon he routinely saved, but also by his friends in the industry. I had the privilege of working with him and Jim Stolper of NPC for almost twenty years on behalf of Polaroid; he was a truly good person, and I am proud to say I considered him a friend.

Unfortunately, I can't share any memories of Marty. Wish I could.

But I wanted to know if any of the commenters know a good camera repairman in NYC? I have a Canonet GIII and a Nikon F with uncooperative meters and Pho-Tec and Chrysler won't touch 'em.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Remember going into his shop in 1970 or thereabouts and seeing an index card on the bulletin board offering a camera for sale. The person who was selling the camera was a Diane Arbus.

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