Robert Foothorap
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Robert Foothorap, Jr.

Who died at age 73 on December 5, 2015, was for 30 years a well-known San Francisco-based photographer.

He was proud to have had a successful four-decade career as a freelancer who counted among his many clients Black Star, Time Magazine, the University of California at San Francisco, and the CBS affiliate in San Francisco. His last (and often) published photograph, of the young Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak taken beside the first Apple, appeared in Fortune Magazine at the time of Jobs' death. He was a trusted collaborator much admired by his peers and beloved by his friends.

Long-time friend author Amy Tan wrote on Facebook after he died, "He was a photographer for news stations and the annual reports of medical companies, but a street photographer at heart. He also liked street food of any ethnicity, and his greatest weekend pleasure was to cook for his friends, serve a four hour feast, and talk long into the night."

Robert was born in Queens, New York. He attended Hackley School in Tarrytown (near Sleepy Hollow, where he grew up). After a stint in the Army as an MP, he worked for White House photographer Jacques Lowe, and then attended the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, finally settling in the place he loved best, San Francisco.

In the best-selling book The Art of Sensual Massage (1974), his elegant black-and-white photographs portrayed couples in beautiful settings demonstrating the various techniques of classic massage. Daring for its time, it was a bellwether of the sexual revolution of the 70s.

His next book, Independent Photography: A Biased Guide to 35mm Technique and Equipment for the Beginner, the Student, and the Artist (Simon and Schuster, 1975), expressed his passion for photography as "an exquisitely alive and plastic blend of art and science." It was a touchstone for many young photographers before the digital age who were guided by his chapters on darkroom and camera techniques, and inspired by his lyrical explorations of light as the language of photography.

Robert's humor was legendary and wicked. He hated pretense and rigidity and mocked it wherever he found it. Brought up in the sartorial khakis and navy blazers of prep school, as an adult he always wore jeans and a black T- shirt, the costume of his rebel nature.

Robert died at home in New York City of complications of treatment for lung cancer. He is survived by his son, Robert Foothorap, III; his daughter-in-law, Michele; his first wife, Joyce Willis, the mother of his son; his grandchildren, Holly and Ross; his sisters Bettina Caitlin and Sue Vigeland; his wife of 40 years, Gretchen Schields, and his partner in recent years, Anne Skillion.

A memorial for family and close friends will be held in Chappaqua, New York, on June 13, 2016.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in San Francisco Chronicle from Mar. 4 to Mar. 6, 2016.
Memories & Condolences
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6 entries
January 7, 2019
Heavily influenced by Robert's book on 35mm photography at an early age - passed a copy on to my son when he became interested - special. Thank you Robert.
Philip Downer
July 12, 2017
I acquired Robert Foothorap's book, Photography: A Biased Guide to 35mm . . ., when it was first published and used it as a primary source and reference throughout my 30+ years of film photography. Even after digital conversion I still hold it as one of my favorite books. I still enjoy the illustrations and wonderful writing that now provides for me a sense of nostalgia. For, as with a first love, it revivifies those warm and magic moments of starting something new, exciting, and unexplored. His book became my bible, manual, primary teacher and sometimes security blanket. I'm sorry I never had the opportunity to meet or contact that mysteriously cool person with the camera hiding his face. I am very saddened to hear of his passing. He made a difference in my life.
Philip Dente
April 24, 2017
I just learned of Robert's passing,. We were good friends and fellow photographers and I cherish the photo I have with him and Alfred Eisenstaedt , me and photographer John Larsen taken in the early 1970's when we brought Alfred to Ca. for the Professional Photographers of S.F. conference. Warmly, Bill Rosenthal
March 8, 2016
Robert was an exceptional talent and authentic free spirit. Together, we enjoyed many projects, conversations and meals over the years.

I share Robert's loss with his family and the many who were fortunate enough to know him.
Terry Stelling
March 7, 2016
We shared many good times and conversation with Robert and Gretchen. The combined artistic ability of this couple was mind boggling.

We thoroughly enjoyed them both. Robert told me he spent a lot of his time shooting pool with homeless people in San Francisco. I asked if he ever photographed any of these events.

He responded, "never; that would be exploitation" and I then regretted even asking the question.

Robert was a friendly, talented and gifted man and he will be missed by his family and friends.

Bill Byrne
March 6, 2016
I send my sympathy to all who loved Robert. I was one of the many who regarded him with great affection.
Victoria Golden
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