Jimmy Forsyth: Photographer who chronicled the lives of the Scotswood Road community in Newcastle
Saturday 25 July 2009
Jimmy Forsyth, who has died aged 95, was a remarkable photographer who documented the community that he lived in, on the Scotswood Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, in the 1950s and 1960s.
Forsyth was born in Barry, South Wales, and came to Tyneside in 1943 as part of the War effort. He had been at work for only four days when an accident led to the loss of sight in his right eye. After a period of convalescence he eventually settled in Elswick and set about trying to find work. He was unable to find regular employment, his days spent walking and reading about the history of his adoptive home.
In 1954 he bought a cheap camera from a junk shop and began taking pictures along the Scotswood Road. At first they were just snapshots – people he knew, places that interested him. Eventually he decided to try to make a comprehensive record of where he lived – he wanted to document the people who lived and worked there and the buildings and the streets that were being knocked down during T. Dan Smith's redevelopment of the west end of the city.
Widespread recognition of his photographs did not come until 1981, when he was discovered by Newcastle's Side Gallery, which mounted major exhibitions of his work. The publication of the book Scotswood Road in 1986, featuring his photographs, led to considerable acclaim and he received the Halina Award for photography in 1987. A biographical study, Out of One Eye was published in 2002, and earlier this year Jimmy Forsyth: Photographs from the 1950s and 1960s was launched; sadly he was too ill to attend.
Forsyth continued to make photographs in colour of his favourite subjects: the people he met on his walks and the extensive development of the largely Victorian city into the modern conurbation it is today, but this later work has yet to attract widespread appreciation. In the 1990s, a grant helped Tyne and Wear Archives in the acquisition and conservation of Forsyth's fragile and extensive archive. Forsyth, always generous, remarked: "It's no good burying the pictures. They should be given out to more people, and they should be free, after all they belong to their subjects, to the people themselves."
His best photographs from the 1950s and 1960s, in black and white, and taken with a 20-year-old Rolleiflex camera, have already become part of the history of the west end of Newcastle. However, it is the humanity of his subjects that shines through his photographs; despite their circumstances they remain steadfast in the face of what life has thrown at them. The intimacy of these photographs is a rare achievement – they are a record of a vanished community, seen and photographed from within.
James Forsyth, photographer: born Barry, South Wales 15 August 1913; died 11 July 2009.
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