December 31, 2020, Tucson, Arizona

Master of the Sublime


Jan. 30, 1948 - Dec. 23, 2020

The conditions of a solitary bird are five:

 The first, that it flies to the highest point;

 the second, that it does not suffer for company,

 not even of its own kind;

 the third, that it aims its beak to the skies;

 the fourth, that it does not have a definite color;

 the fifth, that it sings very softly.

- San Juan de la Cruz, Dichos de Luz y Amor

Jody Forster, Shiprock, New Mexico, 1979

Jody Forster first walked into the fledging Andrew Smith Gallery in 1982 with his friend and artistic champion, John Boland, who had recently moved to Albuquerque. John had been showing Jody’s work at the Photography Southwest Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona since 1978 and he suspected that Jody’s landscapes would be a good fit for our new gallery. When we opened our first public gallery in Old Town, Albuquerque in 1984, Jody helped build the walls and shelves. When we moved to a bigger space in Santa Fe in 1985, Jody pitched in with its construction. As the decades passed and the gallery relocated twice more, Jody helped both times. He wanted to make sure that his photographs were hanging in the most beautiful show space for photography in the country.

Jody Forster, Hail Maker, New Mexico, 2007

For nearly thirty-five years Jody’s powerhouse energy, cheerfulness, and above all, his consummate artistry helped define the character of Andrew Smith Gallery. More than a million people visited and revisited the gallery over the decades, entranced by Jody’s stunning landscapes of the American Southwest, the Himalayas, and Antarctica. There was never a time when his photographs weren’t hanging alongside those of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Edward S. Curtis and other classic and contemporary masters of photography.

Jody Forster, Grand Canyon, Arizona, 2018

Jody Forster died on December 23, 2020 following a complicated heart surgery. He was our great friend and we mourn him.

An adventurer, extreme athlete, amateur astronomer, and romantic visionary, Jody was first and foremost a creator of breathtakingly beautiful photographs. The son and namesake of a decorated World War II Air Force Colonel, he had much to measure up to. Jody was an Air Force veteran himself, but his heart and mind were always those of an artist. While he passionately loved a few women during his life, his greatest love was waiting for sublime, synergistic conjunctions between the earth and sky after he had set up his cumbersome 8x10" camera. The wilderness was his heavenly universe. As Barry Lopez might have put it, Jody approached and captured a fleeting State of Grace that he imparted to us through his image making. He could be strongly opinionated, but there was always a twinkle in his eyes, like a celestial vision that saw past the mundane into the depths of the sky and beyond the edge of the horizon.

The Rotunda, Marble Canyon, Credit P.A. Nesbit

Jody Forster, Thunderstorm, Havasu Canyon, Arizona, 1983

He was born in Chicago in 1948, the son of an Air Force career pilot whose nomadic military lifestyle required the family to move every few years. By the time Jody entered college he had lived from Alaska to Florida, California to Germany, and many places in between. As a boy he was just as passionate about drawing and painting the natural world as he was about raising raptors. Crisscrossing the country with his family, he found it was the Arizona landscape that most resonated with his spirit, especially the Sonoran desert and the Superstition Mountains that he would photograph repeatedly and eventually live near.

Jody Forster, Winter Storm Clearing, Superstition Mountain, Arizona, 1978

He learned photography and darkroom processes in high school. At California State University he switched from painting to photography, graduating in 1971 with a BA in photography. The following year he attended an Ansel Adams Yosemite photographic workshop to further his darkroom and printmaking skills. Not long afterward, a visit with the legendary Ansel Adams in his magnificent Carmel home overlooking the Pacific sealed the deal for Jody. At that moment he vowed to become a “pure” artist who would neither teach nor do professional contract work, but would one day support himself through the sale of his art work alone. Despite years of financial uncertainty he stuck to his guns and the decision made him into one of the leading image-makers and printers of his era.

As a young man, Jody took odd jobs to pay for his studio and photographic equipment. While living in Phoenix he worked in construction. Another time he took a job in a dangerous mine where the shout “fire in the hole!” was followed by an ear-splitting explosive blast in a confined and not always stable space. He even worked on an oil-rig. But as soon as quitting time came, he jumped in his truck loaded with photo gear and flew out of the city for a weekend in pursuit of art.

Jody Forster, Kangtega, Tamserku, Khumbu, Nepal, 1985

In the 1980s Jody managed to fulfill his dream to photograph the world’s most sublime landscapes and over the following decades he made trips to the Himalayas of Nepal, Thailand, Mexico, Canada, Alaska, and Antarctica. His early years as a wrestler and pole-vaulter served him well as he carried heavy packs of photography equipment into the outer reaches of the planet.

Jody on Ngozumpa Ri, Khumbu, Nepal, 1985

In 1984 Jody went to Nepal with the American Himalchuli Expedition as their team photographer. After the expedition ended he stayed on to photograph mountain sanctuaries, assisted by two porters. He trekked 3 to 5 weeks at a time, working with his 8x10 and 35mm cameras at altitudes from 14,000 to 18,000 feet. After returning to Kathmandu to develop his negatives and regroup, he set out again to photograph more mountains. In nine months he hiked some 400 miles and photographed three of the most dramatic Himalayan ranges: the Annapurnas, the Gorkas, and the Khumbu.

Jody Forster, Into the Jet, Khumbu, Nepal, 1985

In 1992 Jody was chosen by the National Science Foundation to participate in the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. He spent three months photographing with his 8x10" and 35mm cameras out of Palmer Station on Anvers Island and from the decks of the Research Vessel Polar Duke as it sailed through the thousand-mile-long Antarctic Peninsula.

Jody Forster, Pepermint Iceberg, 1992

In 1995 he was again selected to participate in the Antarctica Artists Program and spent another three months on the ice photographing McMurdo Sound, Mt Erebus, the dry valleys, and the South Pole.

Back home in New Mexico (or later in Arizona), he would vanish into the state-of-the-art darkroom he had built from scratch to produce impeccably printed works of art, some up to  30 x 40" in scale. The process was an act of love and excruciating labor. He never cut corners. When Jody brought a photograph into the gallery that he had printed, signed, editioned, stamped, matted, and framed it was truly PERFECT.

In 2019, although he had been feeling unwell, he drove thousands of miles through the Alaskan wilderness in search of new photographs. Perhaps it was a portent that in a remote Alaskan town the engine of his truck blew out forcing him to wait for weeks while it was rebuilt.

The painter, P. A. Nesbit, one of Jody’s closet friends and a frequent traveling companion, said of him:

Finally, a personal reflection that is as poignant in my bank of memories as any I can find right now. We were in Antarctica for three months. On one occasion, late at night but still bathed in the Antarctic twilight, Jody wandered off across the sea ice in search of something I could not see. Moving out several hundred yards into the vast emptiness of the Ice, I paused and for a brief moment wept when I saw him for who he really was: a solitary and courageous warrior, a deeply sensate and profound advocate of the sublimity to be found in Nature.

Here he walks toward Mt. Discovery . . . or Eternity, if you prefer.

 ---Liz Kay, Chimayo & Andrew Smith, Tucson January 2021

Here is an informal video tribute made by Jody's

nephew Pi Ware.

"It’s made with much love to my uncle & amazing photographer, Jody Forster."


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