R.I.P. Marty Forscher

In yesterday’s New York Times, I read of the passing of Marty Forscher.


Marty was as old skool as it got…I mean, he got his start serving in the Navy photographic unit headed by Edward Steichen, for God’s sake! After the war, he opened his own repair shop, first on Lexington Avenue, but later at the 37 West 47th Street location that everybody knew. Professional Camera Repair wasn’t just a repair place…it was one of the ‘hubs’ of the New York photo business. The old bulletin board in the waiting area was filled with assistant’s resumes, studio shares, camera ‘for sale’ notices, photo show openings and just about everything else you could imagine that related to photography in this city. And when Marty wasn’t simply fixing cameras, he was always coming up with ways to make them do things that the manufacturers didn’t think of…or inventing his own stuff…the most famous of which was the Forscher ProBack. What a simple idea…a Polaroid back for a 35mm camera…except is wasn’t. There were all sorts of optical reasons why you couldn’t simply slap a Polaroid back onto a 35mm camera, and before the ProBack, the only way to get an instant image from a 35mm camera was to slap on the ungainly monster known as a Speed Magny…..


For those of you who spent any time in a physics class, you can imagine how the long optical path of that periscope-like device would suck up light…in this case, about about 5 stops worth…so a shutter speed of 1/250 second effectively became 1/8 second…not very useful at all. Marty had another idea…he invented a system that used a free-floating fiber optic lens to transfer the image from the camera film plane directly onto the Polaroid film plane…..


I’ll always remember the day when I saw my first ProBack…and then the second, and the third…..and soon there was nobody who didn’t own one! To anybody not involved in the business, this probably seems like nothing, but overnight, Marty’s little invention had changed the way a generation of photographers took pictures! Here is the first two-on-one 35mm Fiber Optic Pro-Back Polaroid shot ever taken…..that’s Marty with one of his repair techs, Noah Schwartz…..


It’s been a long, long time since I have seen Marty, but I’ll fondly remember him and how he would offer up a bit of grandfatherly advice or a few suggestions on how to solve a problem…..then he’d shoo me away from the counter ‘cuz there were other customers waiting!