In 1975, Portland Played Home to an Incredible Black Fashion Project

Photographer Bruce Forster recalls shooting 60 rolls of film. Forty years later, he tracked down his original models.

By Eden Dawn Photography by Bruce Forster September 18, 2018 Published in the Design Annual: 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Bruce Forster

In 1975 Bruce Forster—a seasoned photographer who’d already traveled the world, shooting in Swinging ’60s and ’70s London, vacationing in northern Africa—had settled in Portland when the muses visited him. After wrapping up the workday on location at Jantzen Beach, he was walking between hotels when a scene caught his eye.

“I went down this hallway, and there were just a ton of gorgeous women lining up against the walls. And the light from that garden was so pretty, bouncing up into the area where they waited,” Forster recalls of that day. “They were there for a Black Women fashion show, all made up and dressed up against this wall ready to go onstage. It was just fabulous.”

He started chatting, asking if anyone would like to do a shoot. Some enthusiastic yesses led to Forster’s Black Fashion editorial project. “We would meet downtown somewhere and shoot maybe three women at a time, all decked out,” he recalls. “We’d go around to different locations, and it was just a whole lot of fun. I kept doing that, each time getting passed on to other women, until I think I shot 60 rolls of film.”

Images from Portland photographer Bruce Forster's Black Fashion project in 1975

Image: Bruce Forster

He made prints for the models, and held a small gallery show of images before setting the project aside. Forty years later, cleaning up his archives from a lifetime of work for clients like Bank of America, DoveLewis Animal Hospital, and the Heathman Hotel, Forster stumbled across the collection.

“My assistant at the time got very excited about it,” he says. “We decided to see if we could contact some of them, even though I didn’t remember a single solitary name. So we went and talked to the Skanner to see if they would run a couple of shots and make an inquiry to the community.”

It worked. Though some models had moved and some had died, in 2016 Forster gathered a small group to re-create their mesmerizing looks from decades before. The models (we didn’t have Forster’s same success in tracking them down) even used their reunion time to put on a Sexy at 60+ fashion show in the upstairs room at the North Portland Library on Killingsworth. As we already know in fashion: retro is back in style.

Some of the original models recreating their shoots 40 years later

Image: Bruce Forster

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