Todd Forsgren: “The world is round” in photographic experiments | Arts & Theater

Things are not what they appear in Todd Forsgren’s photographs.

An image of rings in a frothy pond resembles Saturn. If the sun in a beach landscape looks too bright, it’s because he burned a hole in the print with a cigarette and slipped an LED light behind it. The salami slices look like distant molecules or moons, but that’s actually what happens if you place them directly on photosensitive paper.

A playful sense of experimentation runs through her Missoula Art Museum exhibit, “The World is Round,” which was selected from a series of the same name that has been in development for more than a decade.

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Photos come in a variety of formats and mediums – he will take photos on an iPhone or professional camera, edit them in Photoshop or apps.

“I love photography,” he said. “It’s precious to me. But it’s also profane to me.”

Forsgren feels like he’s “walking a line” with these images – like, say, that beautiful sunset he stabbed with a cigarette.

The title refers to the idea that our direct vision comes into conflict with what we know to be true and to thinking about ways to explore this through photography.

“It’s like trying to fake what we know intuitively – trying to see that through observation,” he said.

Take “Bent Horizon (v1.0 in Camera)” (2018) is obviously a photograph of the ocean – you can see the undulating surface in the lower half of the photo, but the horizon line is tilted in difficult directions . He took the image on a single negative with 32 exposures, tilting the camera a few degrees each time on his tripod.

Forsgren teaches photography at Rocky Mountain College in Billings and directs its Ryniker-Morrison Gallery.

His intentions go a long way in appreciating what he is looking for. MAM’s senior curator, Brandon Reintjes, points to an element of absurdism and humor. The MAM included labels with text by Forsgren, in his own voice, explaining what was happening, as they thought the humor would pass.

This series began around the time Forsgren began teaching. He started going through every technique he could think of and exploring the processes to see where they took him.

He said he “thought about every place you could play with in terms of the photographic shot, every step in the process that could be extended, every weird process that could be changed…every kind of choice photographic that you could squeeze a little more juice out of, that’s kind of the idea behind the series,” he said.

Forsgren worked in remote locations. For one project, he photographed birds that scientists had captured with mist nets. These images were published in Nature and Wired, the former of which mentioned that some people initially found the images disturbing. The birds are seemingly locked in, and the imagination could spiral outward.

The birds he photographed were perfectly safe. He explained to Wired that he shoots them against a white background. Part of the impetus, he said, was that he had just finished school and didn’t have an expensive telephoto lens. But with the project he was able to start “thinking about how you can really transform the material – in a way that is the magic of photography”.

As for the nets, “it’s like trapping the viewer, as much as the birds are trapped,” Forsgren said.

The show covers all kinds of techniques and references to the history of photography. Reintjes said “every other image is so completely different from every other image, with only a few expectations”, but there remains a “consistency of vision”.

Asked about working in so many different styles and formats, he replied “you choose the right tool for the job”. It can be a smartphone, an appropriated or manipulated image. The exhibit includes a few altered photographs, such as Ansel Adams’ image of Yosemite, or the iconic “Tank Man” photo of Tiananmen Square.

One series refers to concept artist John Baldessari’s “Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line”, which depicts the artist trying to do just that. In Forsgren’s version, he tosses a clementine in the air hundreds of times, trying to see if he can create an eclipse image.

He shot “Trying Not to Go Blind” (2017) on a beach in Puerto Rico. He borrowed a cigarette from a friend (Forsgren doesn’t smoke) and burned a hole where the sun should be, then framed it with an LED light that shines through.

Associate curator John Calsbeek said they were a bit like “photographic dada” and “a way of using photography against itself”.

“Saturn’s Rings Reflecting on a Pond” is from a series in which he photographs the surface of water. It didn’t quite match, though, but he kept the file on his desk and kept coming back to it.

“A lot of times I work on this show, it’s just stuff that I sort of recycled that turned into something new and different in some way,” he said. After careful cropping, it looks like an image from outer space.

The “Saturn” piece is located in a corner of the gallery along with a few other images that allude to the larger universe through somewhat mundane objects. He put slices of meat on photographic paper and they end up looking like planets, because the holes in the meat look like craters. The results are often surprises for him too.

“What will happen if I put a piece of salami on the photographic paper and try to get the light through it? Go to Whole Foods and say, ‘Oh, can I have, you know, a few slices of salami, and can you make a whole bunch of different thicknesses?’ he said.

Some are experiences drawn from questions he asked himself.

For “Supernova from MIX CD #1-3” (2016), he placed CDs directly in the microwave, resting on silver gelatin paper. They seem to crackle and fragment, a literal midrange threatening to shatter.

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Michael E. Marquez