Ornithological Photographs Monograph

By Todd R. Forsgren


Ornithological Photographs

These photographs depict birds that have been temporarily caught in mist nets during ornithological research. It is a unique moment, just before a researcher removes the bird from the net to be weighed and measured (and thus the bird becomes quantified by these concise numbers). The bird is then released and flies away, disappearing back into the forest as well as into the data the scientists have gathered. In these nets the birds dangle between our framework of ‘the bird in the hand and the bird in the bush,’ the wild animal seems neither known nor unknown. I have sought out this moment as a space to consider our values and balance our empathy with our capability to think abstractly.

Ornithological Photographs Monograph
By Todd R. Forsgren

The captured creatures look embarrassed, fearful, angry, and vulnerable. It is clearly an uncomfortable moment for them. Yet the process has a remarkably low causality rate and the overwhelming majority of ornithologists believe the technique is essential to helping us understand birds and bird populations (and I agree with them). This research has undoubtedly contributed to our knowledge of these creatures in ways that have helped to conserve them and provided data that show how and why their populations are in decline. I hope viewers can find beauty in this strange and privileged view, between their empathy with the struggling individual birds and their more abstract concerns about environmental issues.

Ornithologists now use mist nets to gather data that cannot be obtained with the help of binoculars, microphones, or telephoto lenses. These nearly invisible nets are set up like fences and function as huge spider webs, catching unsuspecting birds. The researcher carefully extracts the bird from the net. Each bird is then measured, aged, sexed, and banded with an individually numbered anklet. Then the bird is released, back into the wild.

Includes four essays commissioned for the book: an introduction by my father, Brian W. Forsgren and texts by John A. Tyson, James Lowen, and Susan Wegner. With illustrations by Julian Montague.

Learn more about my Ornithological Photographs project, and see images from the series, HERE.

I use photography to examine themes of ecology,  perceptions of landscape, and social justice while striving to strike a balance between art history and natural history. To do so, I employ a range of approaches, from documentary strategies to experimental techniques.

Community is very important to me, and I’m proud to be a cofounder of Spectacle Box, and a member of both the Atlantika Collective and f/4.5 Collective.  I also organize AgX, and teach at Rocky Mountain College.  I live in Montana and spend lots of time in Los Angeles.

I studied biology and visual arts at Bowdoin College and I have a MFA in photography from J.E. Purkyne University.  See complete bio HERE


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