Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Jimmy Forsyth RIP

HIS portraits caught the changing face of Newcastle for over 50 years.

Jimmy Forsyth, who has died aged 95, captured life through a lens with an uncompromising eye which turned the everyday into an art form,

He began using his camera in 1954 to record the West End communities around his flat in Scotswood Road – a world which was soon to disappear.

This was the time of Teddy Boys, corner shops, rag and bone men, tinkers, grimy kids on street corners, hula hoops and cowboy outfits, cobbled streets and flat caps.

For decades to come, Jimmy doggedly pictured demolitions of landmarks such as the Scotswood and Redheugh bridges and new developments which were springing up.

In 1960 he photographed John Dobson’s Royal Arcade which was soon to be flattened to make way for Swan House and its roundabout.

He also recorded incidents such as the hole in a bedroom wall caused by a runaway beer wagon in 1960. It was used by the Evening Chronicle, earning Jimmy seven shillings and six pence.

Until around 18 months ago, Jimmy lived in Cruddas Park in Newcastle before moving to Elswick Hall care home, where he died on Saturday. He would have been 96 next month.

After 20 years of picture taking, Jimmy came to the attention of West End librarian Des Walton, who staged exhibitions of his images.

“Jimmy came in out of the blue with his albums. I was staggered to see what he had done,” said Mr Walton.

An exhibition followed at the Side Gallery in Newcastle, followed by a book of his photographs published in 1986 by Bloodaxe, called Scotswood Road, which became a local best seller.

In 2002 a second book, Out Of One Eye, was released by Tyne Bridge Publishing.

Jimmy, who was born in Barry in South Wales, had arrived in the North East in 1943 to help with war work as a fitter at ICI Prudhoe, but was blinded in his right eye in an accident four days after starting work.

Only last month Tyne Bridge released a new book, titled Jimmy Forsyth, featuring his pictures from the 1950s and 60s.

The gradual realisation of the importance of Jimmy’s vast archive saw him win the Halina Award for Photography in 1987.

Film director Mike Figgis cast Jimmy as a newspaper seller in his 1988 Newcastle-set film Stormy Monday.

Jimmy was even interviewed live on the Newcastle rock TV programme The Tube.

A display of a dozen of Jimmy’s classic pictures is currently on show in Newcastle’s new city centre library.

Anthony Flowers, who compiled the new book on Jimmy Forsyth, described how Jimmy’s work had been exhibited alongside that of major British professional photographers.

“Jimmy was a one-off, an incredible and unique individual. I have not come across anyone else who remotely approaches him,” said Anthony.

“He embarked on a mission to record people and places.

“He came from a relatively poor background but he was always interested in history and read and read and read.

“He was often thought of as being something of an eccentric, but he has left an enormous legacy. You can’t measure what he has left to the city of Newcastle and Tyneside. Jimmy photographed people as they really were, in their own surroundings, on street corners.

“They are really poignant pictures which have this gritty reality about them.”

Anthony recalls the opening of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

“People were lining up to be the first to cross the bridge and then the crowd parted, and there was Jimmy with his camera.”

Thousands of Jimmy’s photographs, in wallets and tartan albums, are now in the care of Tyne Wear Archives, where they will be sorted and catalogued.

His funeral will be held at West Road crematorium on Thursday at 2pm.


Some of Jimmy's pictures of the Scotswood Road in the west end of Newcastle are at: http://www.amber-online.com/people/21
- for example:


  1. A great photographer: I bought his new book last week. Well worth getting.TK.

  2. I remember him losing his camera - or it getting pinched - sometime in the early 80s, I think. The Chronic made a big deal of it presenting him with new one - not a particularly good one, as I recall. Cheap bastards.

    Scotswood was a fairly fightening place - you didn't want to wander in there by accident or the ne'er- do-wells would beat the shit out of you. The area around the Bobby Shafto was especially bad. Less a site of social deprivation than a primeval swamp.

  3. I came across his photos which were on display in the new Newcastle library when I came up to visit my son a couple of weeks age. I thought they were fantastic, very reminiscent of Bailey's photos of the East End around the same period. Most photographers struggle to take pictures like his, but it seems to have come naturally to him. In this era he would have been acclaimed and become a celebrity. How things change, as his photos show.

    He will be missed, but his legacy remains. RIP

  4. They remind me of some of Bill Brandt's work or the rural photos produced by the FSA photographers.

  5. Just found his book yesterday when I visiting the North East. I just had to buy it - the pictures show real life.

  6. My grandmother was pictured sitting at a piano in his first book "Scotswood Road" given to me by my father. This wetted my appetite for Jimmy's work as a neighbour (just round the corner in Pine St) we were photographed many times. The corner studio as he called it was just opposite my grans. Out of One Eye, shows me in my cowboy suit, and no name. I didn't recognise it at first as we never owned a copy of the picture, to confirm my suspicion I visited Jimmy's archives at the Tyne and Wear Archive service in Blanford Street.