Photo-paintings by Fran Forman
Fox Talbot Museum, National Trust
How do you capture a dream? What are the images of the mind? Do those images represent reality? Or are they something else entirely?
Photography has been admired since its inception for its ability to record a certain kind of reality down to the minutest detail. This has been both a blessing and a curse. A painter can change the appearance of a scene or a sitter at will, but a photographer must follow the laws of physics and chemistry. But what if an artist could step outside the laws of nature and create photographs of people with wings, rose colored skies and airborne pigs?
The advent of digital imaging in the late 20th century has made this all possible. Fran Forman begins with 19th century figures and places them in fantastic landscapes to create a sort of alternative universe. The poetic narrative of Michelle Blake takes these images even further, gently pulling the viewer through this beautiful, and sometimes disconnecting, dreamscape. The result is an extraordinary journey - an open window into the fertile world of imagination.
Founder and Editor of Lenscratch
Pucker Gallery, Boston, MA
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.
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.
Editor, The Photo Review
Curator: Extended Realities: The Language of Photomontage, Rowan University, New Jersey
Among the accomplished artists now employing photomontage, Fran Forman has created a whimsical, subtle, and psychologically challenging body of work that engages and enthralls the viewer. Forman has so mastered the technical aspects of her medium, that while we can intellectually“see” its layers, it convinces us of its own internal reality. She manages to combine images of our vernacular past with our memories of the future. Her realities recall the fanciful tactility of Joseph Cornell and the visual acuity of Rene Magritte. Yet the charm of her images and their flights of fancy are wholly her own.
Curator, New Door Creative Art Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland
A fascinating exhibition featuring the work of New England artist, Fran Forman, highlights a unique translation of time and light. In acknowledgment of American contemporary photography, Ms. Forman resurrects the imagery of early 20th century portraits with creative skill and vision; conjuring narratives and suggestions of narratives that are alternately lingering, whimsical, evocative and surreal.
Ms. Forman dissolves the traditional boundaries of time and place’, combining portraiture and technology to interpret the realm where the physical and spiritual frequently collide. The collection of works on exhibit explores the terrain of collective recall against muted landscapes of weathered texture, convincing the viewer of the passing of time. These poetic works tell the stories of family and strangers, human and spirit, darkness and light.
The Thompson Gallery, Garthwaite Center for Art and Science, Weston, Massachusetts
Fran Forman’s photographic collages display an interest in chance-encounter combination; but randomness in Forman’s case is particularly subjugated to personal whim or fancy and the forces of the artist’s own intuitive reconciliation. The dreamy, surreal and fantastic imagery of ReCollections seems to conceptually shift from physical to ethereal, as it sparks emotion, bewilderment and wonder.
Forman describes her computer generated practice as ‘painting with pixels’. Indeed that phrase is an apt one for an artist who spends hours and hours enhancing the form, color, lighting and texture of her own virtual photographs – or the smallest of details within them – and the myriad scans of photo-historical artifacts she collects.
Forman, a scavenger, collector and curator of the exquisite, culls digital and analog realms for objects and images to transform and combine. While Forman uses a scanner, digital camera and cell-phone to capture contemporary images, the nineteenth century photograph record is of particular interest to the artist.
Amid the fury of Western industrialization, when fixed photograph was in its infancy, candle and fireplace light illuminated everyone’s homes, and America would divide itself into civil war, the artist finds themes of loss, longing, unexpected happenstance, harsh expedition, sustained suspension and great mystery.
Forman’s compositions, with their union of antique and contemporary imagery, are unabashed amalgams of interwoven histories. It is truly filling that the artist fuses the earliest techniques of photography with the most current. Rather than bespeaking specific narratives through such union, and though the artist’s titles may lead the associative and imaginative mind in one direction or another, the work does not so much point to specific events as much as to the space and time between them. Her work in general always seems to depict twilight hours – neither day nor night, not quite the past and not yet the future, but rather protracted moments. Forman dredges up ghosts and then relocates them on the threshold of now, where they seem animated in their suspension as they beckon us to join them. As recollected and morphed artifacts, they seem to be reminding us of forgotten individuals, remembered times, along with our present moments. Forman’s intuitive image combinations remind us of the potency of resurrection, reverence, play and wonder, as well as the responsibilities of the immediate future.
Julia Dean. Founder and Executive Director
Los Angeles Center for Photography
Interview with Fran Forman
Julia Dean: What kind of photographer are you?
Fran Forman: I’m more of a hunter and gatherer. I shoot pictures wherever I go – things that interest me at the moment, not knowing quite where they’ll end up, if anywhere. I also scan objects, old photos, ephemera, my paintings, and I sometimes paint on my photographs or add gold leaf and encaustic. In fact, I used to do a lot of painting and drawing, and my photography tends towards the more ‘mixed media’ or ‘painterly’, I think. The final photographic images are composited, so I guess I’m sometimes called a ‘photo montagist’. But I prefer to think of myself as someone who simply makes art.
JD: How long have you been shooting?
FF: I always thought I would ‘do something in the arts’. I began to take photography seriously (as opposed to snapping picts of my dog or accidental photos of my friends’ feet) in the mid-70s. I’ve been more of a full-time ‘shooter’ for about the past 15 years.
JD: Where did you get your training?
FF: Because I did a lot of drawing as a child, I copied photographs that I liked from magazines such as Life and Look. Those photographs probably provided me with the best training in terms of composition, light, shadow, and emotional impact. Later, I spent hours pouring through issues of Camera magazine., where I was introduced to many of the photographers who continue to influence me today.
Later, while working at MIT, I had access to the darkroom, where I learned by trial and error – mostly error – and a lot of training from sympathetic and patient undergrads. Other than an occasional workshop, I haven’t had much in the way of professional training in photography, which I regret. Don’t ask me about the zone system.
FF: I always thought I ‘would do something in the arts’, because of my background in drawing and painting. But the moment the first image appeared from the liquid bath in the darkroom, I fell in love.
Eventually I realized I couldn’t make a living as a professional fine-art photographer, and I was only interested in creating my own personal tableau. So I entered an MFA program in graphic design. My first year of graduate school, however, was spent in the darkroom, and I didn’t really learn much about graphic design until after receiving my Masters. (Fortunately, by then, the technology was changing so rapidly that what I would have learned in graphic design school – had I not been in the darkroom – became obsolete, such as copy-fitting, type-setting, cutting rubylith with exacto blades). I began using a computer to make drawings (with a mouse!) in 1989 and Photoshop in 1992 to combine those pictures with my photographs. That’s when I fell in love all over again.
JD: Did you ever come close to giving up?
FF: I did move away from photography to become a graphic designer but returned full-time to photography after about 20 years. And although my career as a graphic designer pulled me in different directions, it ultimately served me well when I decided to devote myself full-time to fine art photography. For instance, as a designer, you’re always thinking about how best to communicate a message or emotion, how text and image should work in tandem to support that message, that there should be no ‘wasted real estate’, and that every part of that design – even the negative spaces – should service the message. And to do so, the design should be beautiful or bold and at the intersection of fine art, commerce and psychology. Similarly, I hope that my photographic composite images draw the viewer in by telling a story, creating a feeling, and that every pixel works to service that story.
JD: Have you sacrificed anything by being a photographer?
FF: A steady income!
JD: What have you gained by being a photographer?
FF: I look at the world differently. I pay attention to lights and darks, textures, clouds and bugs, enigmatic expressions, everything. All images, objects, or landscapes might become fodder for my photo montages. Also, and this may be more important, I’ve gained a community of artists – on a global scale – and I’ve been fortunate to travel places and meet people who share my passions. I now count among some of my closest friends people I’ve met in the global photographic community.
JD: What classes do you teach at LACP?
FF: ‘Creating the Photo Montage’
JD: What do you love most about teaching?
FF: I love to see students get as excited as I do when something clicks, when the tools that might have seemed daunting suddenly become second nature. It’s very liberating when the student realizes that the computer is just one more tool in the arsenal of image-making tools; then the imagination is free to soar and art happens. That’s so cool!
JD: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about making a career in photography?
FF: Work every day. Be willing to make mistakes, to be confused and frustrated. Experiment. Have fun. Look at and read about the work of others: not only photographers but painters, sculptors. Read books. Read good books. Read history. Listen to music – good music. Get a day job.