Many people in the LGBT community speak about wanting to “get involved” yet never seem to put their words into actions. Former Mr. Gay New Jersey Alan Joseph Fortenberry Jr. not only got involved, but set an example that anyone looking to make a difference should follow.
Alan Joseph was an active, enthusiastic and vibrant member of the New Jersey LGBT community. Sadly, Alan Joseph passed away earlier this week at the age of 44. While we will miss our friend and brother, we are blessed that the talents he was generous to share with us are here with us forever.
“For me, the most important thing I learned was just honing my eye. I think I had a good eye.” – Herb Ritts
It seems like no matter where you went, you were going to run into the smiling face of Alan Joseph Fortenberry. The last time I bumped into him he was delivering copies of Out In Jersey Magazine. As the Entertainment Editor of that publication, I worked with Alan frequently as he was our “go-to” photographer for any and all events. We had a great meal together and chatted about his work on the Jayne Mansfield biopic “Diamonds to Dust” and the future release “Trakked”. His enthusiasm for both projects was only matched by the way he spoke about his colleagues on both projects. Alan was not interested in simply taking center stage and shining; he wanted to be sure everyone else around him was shining as well.
That is probably part of the reason that much of the time you saw Alan Joseph, his camera was right by his side. If you were at New Jersey Pride, there was Alan Joseph at the fairgrounds in Asbury Park taking shots of performers, and candid shots of festival-goers. If you were at the Miss Den, Miss Paradise or any drag show on a Friday night, chances are, you saw Alan Joseph taking shots of the girls and simultaneously tipping them generously. One of Alan Joseph’s best qualities was taking these girls and making them look their best.
Alan also was an advocate for so many people in the area who were looking for a professional photographer to get their start. For example, Eric Annunziato, local actor and Paradise bartender worked with Alan regularly for the past few years. He fondly remembered Alan’s kindness and friendship, and told me that he “always took a chance on me, never asking for anything in exchange”. That was part of Alan’s charm though; he was endlessly generous.
Not only was Alan Joseph a lover of the drag world, he took it one step further and got involved with the Beacon Light Fund, a charitable organization that works with those in need that are suffering from HIV/AIDS. Alan worked closely with the organization and board members and snagged the crown of Mr. Gay New Jersey in 2004.
One of the biggest footprints Alan Joseph has left on our community is the gorgeous photography that has been shared throughout not just New Jersey, but also in New York City; Alan Joseph was a contributor to Get Out magazine as well. He did a large number of covers for that publication, with such notable personalities as singer Kelly King, D.J. Rico Alexis, and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner Bianca Del Rio.
Alan Joseph also had started to work both behind and in front of the camera for some big screen projects. He worked on “Diamonds To Dust”, a biopic of movie icon Jayne Mansfield, and there was not a member of the cast or crew that did not benefit from Alan Joseph’s various talents. In addition, Alan’s final project was “Trakked”, where he did some of the still photography for this upcoming project.
Director and producer Frank Ferrucio is one of Alan Joseph dearest friends and worked closely with him on both “Diamonds To Dust” and “Trakked”. He spoke with me about Alan shortly after his death and his words speak volumes for not just the footprint Alan left on his friends’ lives, but on the LGBT community in general. Frank told me “My heart is very heavy with grief right now, I’m so in shock! Alan was an amazing and loving, giving man, He was the easiest to work with and always at my disposal. When we started my Dream Project, “Diamonds to Dust” he was overly enthused to be set photographer, but became more than that. He helped everyone on set, was always positive no matter what was going on in his personal life. He soon became Boom Operator, Costumer, Set Manager and held several small parts in the film which he was very proud of. He even attempted the accent of newsman Walter Winchell without being asked – within an hours notice. He studied acting with me for 8 weeks and was encouraged when I told him how good he was. He became something that isn’t easy for anyone to do; he became a close friend to me and my heart aches over his loss. There will never be another Alan Joseph Fortenberry Jr. and I’m glad-because I wouldn’t want anyone to compete against his legacy”.
Visitation will be today, 2-4 and 7-9 pm, at the Flynn and Son/Koyen Funeral Home, 319 Amboy Avenue, Metuchen, NJ 08840. Funeral services will be Tuesday 11:00 am in the funeral home. Cremation will be private.