Fran Forman’s cinematic photocollages surprise and delight in their exploration of in betweens

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In her book, The Rest Between Two Notes, the American photographer displays haunting and whimsical photo-paintings rich in colour and metaphor

American artist Fran Forman’s artistic process is more like a painter’s than a photographer’s. When she embarks on her fantastical projects, she never knows how they will end up. In her new book, The Rest Between Two Notes, Forman chases this sense of perpetual discovery to explore “in-betweens”: the liminal spaces “between coming and going, between darkness and light, between history and the present, between connections and not connections.”

Forman’s images vary in tone. Some photographs are whimsical and fanciful, while others are haunting and surreal. In one, a giraffe stands in an abandoned chapel alongside a boy playing the trombone. In another, a young girl draped in white swings on a rope while another draws short, white strokes across a chalkboard. Rich, explosive hues imbue all of Forman’s collages, which straddle the space between fantasy and reality. The artist animates clashing subject matter and weaves together unexpected narratives by playing with light, colour, and motion.

Two wimples © Fran Forman.

For A Rest Between Two Notes, Forman invited writers to interpret her work, pairing her images with short stories, poems, and commentaries. “Wouldn’t it be interesting if I asked people to write their fantasy, a story or a poem, anything they wanted about an image, and I would have no say in what they wrote?” she muses. “One writer had just been released from prison after 32 years. One writer was a physicist […] another was a Freudian psychologist. And then there were a couple of novelists.” By layering her visual fantasies with written ones, Forman extends her book outwards. “I’m not only doing the work for me, I’m doing it for the viewer,” she says. “[These interpretations] are part of the object.”

Forman’s photomontages are distinctly cinematic. “Many of my images are almost like a still in a movie; the still frame between the actions,” she explains. Although Forman constructs each collage as an “independent entity,” her book invites readers to weave narratives across images and chapters. Her magical realist collages are heavy with a sense of mystery: we rarely know what a model is looking at, what unites specific objects, what something is and why it is out of focus. “Portals” — windows and doorways that are neither entrances nor exits — fill the images. “I’m just fascinated by the idea of a threshold; of just not knowing exactly what the next minute is going to be, the next second,” says Forman. Her use of animals, costumes, weather, and magic surprise and delight; nothing is obvious or expected. 

Long shadow © Fran Forman.

Forman only begins to work on a piece after wading through her vast archive of images and stumbling across something that “tickles her fantasy” — whether it be “an object, a piece of architecture, a model,” or something else. Forman explains: “Once I find that hook, then I start working with that image. And it’s a question of making a little narrative out of that image, putting it together, almost like designing a stage or a puppet show […] It’s a question of creating a whole narrative, a whole kind of painting with the beginning of that one image. And I never know where it’s going to end up.” Indeed, guided by this sense of unknowing, curiosity and wonder shape Forman’s images.

Fran Forman is currently touring her book in various locations across the US, including the SE Center for Photography, the Los Angeles Center of Photography, and the Colorado Photographic Arts Center. Fran Forman features in a show at Sohn Fine Art Gallery in Lenox, Massachusetts, until 26 July 2021. The Rest Between Two Notes, published by Unicorn Publishing Group, is available for purchase here.

Nurit Chinn

Nurit Chinn is a playwright and freelance journalist. A recent graduate of Yale University with a degree in English Literature, Nurit has published work in Wallpaper* Magazine, Off Assignment, and the Yale Daily News.