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Fran Forman is a photographic artist who uses her imagination to take flight into new realms of seeing, feeling, and experiencing created worlds. Like a great chef or a bewitching magician, she uses her considerable talents to translate sensory experiences into photographic collages that draw from memory, history, and fantasy.
Her images are poetic, filled with metaphors that evoke the conflict of being rooted to the earth while yearning to be elsewhere. Forman’s photographs pull us backwards and forwards, into the past and into the subconscious, drawing out our own memories of childhood, of growing up, of desire and loss. Each image is a journey in itself, each with a suitcase packed full of ideas and visual suggestions that allow the viewer their own expedition through color, memory, and connection. She provides us with enough space to time travel, through the past and into the future. That yin and yang of seeing is what makes her work so special.
Forman has been stirring the photographic pot with an unusual slight of hand, creating a recipe for alchemical thinking and conscious reminiscence. She comes to the task with all the right ingredients having held a succession of positions in the fields of graphic design, book cover art, and web design; in addition she studied art and sociology at Brandeis University, received an MSW in psychiatric social work, and then an MFA from Boston University. This sensitivity to the inner self and psychological thinking, coupled with her technical skill sets and a passion for surrealism, paradox, and illusion results in a process allowing her to assemble…magic.
Influenced by the Pictorialists of the early 20th century, by the color of the Fauvists, and colors and texture found in mid-century masterpieces, Forman also is drawn to surrealist painters, filmmakers, and photographers, in particular Ilya Zomb, Graceann Warn, Tom Chambers, Joseph Cornell, and Josephine Sacabo. These influences all have a common thread of assembled elements. But her influences extend beyond the art world; Forman is interested in cultural expression, especially from Mexico, Italy, and China, and historical means of transportation.
Her enchanted constructions have roots in the history of photography, where old photographs are reborn in new fanciful scenarios. She does not consider her work photography, per se; instead she thinks of it as painting with images. Forman’s montages reflect similar themes that resonate throughout her projects, themes that draw on the idea of possibility, not only in the creation of something totally new and unique, but in the possibility of man’s potential. Many of her images explore the idea of flight, using wings and feathers, balloons and kites, airplanes and blimps. A child wearing butterfly wings reflects the youthful desire to fly, whether in our dreams or in our imagination, and she provides the tools for that transportation as her figures rise skyward.
To appreciate the deep well of ideas and knowledge Forman brings to her work, it is important to understand the layers of learning that were the perfect storm of technology, design, observation, and humanity. As a child, Forman spent hours examining photographs found in Life and Look magazines, drawing and doodling, and listening to wild stories told by her grandmother about sky-hooks and people flying. As an adult, Forman observed the rich sense of play and imagination by watching her own children, noting “…it was my daughters’ playful extravagant imaginations, their funny and spirited conversations, their artwork and the structures they designed and built for themselves out of the oddest material.”
Forman has always been at the forefront of technology, dabbling with computers in the 1980s moving into early Photoshop versions, and mastering the recent versions, all aligning so that she developed a keen knowledge of computer software and its possibilities. A major contribution to her computer education came when she was asked to design several multimedia CD-roms and visually rich websites; she filled these with imagery depicting such diverse subjects as Jack Kerouac and the Beats, the story of immigration to the United States, and the Harlem Renaissance.
At that time, she also inherited “a treasure trove of family photos” and she began to look at photographs as more than just a documentation of a life lived. She is a collector of sorts, starting with her own family photographs, to snippets of imagery captured along the way: the corner of a painting, a pair of legs from an old photograph, a new landscape, textures and elements. When combined, these elements take on whole new meanings.
Her knowledge of creating art with a computer combined with her many years as a graphic designer taught Forman about visual communication, about the simplicity of suggestion that allows for individual interpretation, and how to think about composition, texture, color, harmony, scale, symmetry, and of course metaphor and message. As Forman states, “I especially love typography, as font and logo design force you to think about positive and negative space, and how to use the simplest shapes to suggest meanings. And from typography, I’ve learned the value of metaphor and that every pixel counts.”
Forman brings two final ingredients to her roster of artistic skills. Armed with degrees in social work, photography, and graphic design she has an innate understanding of the human psyche. She pays attention to small details, particularly the gaze of her subjects and gestures that show a yearning for something more. The magic of Fran
Forman comes from a life well seen and imagined and from her dedication to her craft and now teaching that craft. The hours she spends stirring the pixels into a rich stew of imagery is evident in the complex layers of her work, yet she leaves room for our own journey to take flight, providing the viewer with an incredible launching pad into our imaginations.
Aline Smithson is a fine art photographer, founder and editor of Lenscratch, and an educator. She is represented by several galleries and has been widely published internationally. Smithson also has been a juror, reviewer, and curator for many photographic institutions and festivals.