This Week In Photography Books: Todd R. Forsgren

by Jonathan Blaustein

Have you ever heard of Conor McGregor?

Yes? No? (If not, he’s an Irish fighter, currently taking the MMA world by storm.)

I’m not much of an MMA fan, myself. But I started watching the occasional match a couple of years ago, when I was training in Kung Fu, and became tangentially aware of a few of the big players in the sport.

McGregor had a huge fight this past weekend: a title challenge against a Brazilian named Jose Aldo. Mr. Aldo, the champion, was undefeated for a decade, and a tough mother-f-cker, by all accounts.

People spend $100 to watch these fights on Pay-per-View. They’re events and spectacles, as much as physical battles. Fans shell out for the entertainment and expect good value in return.

Apparently, Conor McGregor likes to talk a lot of sh-t. So many fighters do, but he always backs it up, which only increases the vehemence of his fan base.

This time, his words proved prophetic. I didn’t see the fight, of course, because no way am I dropping a hundred bucks on such a thing. Not when I need to buy my son a new ski jacket since he lost his old one last Spring.

But I didn’t need to see it. No one did. Because the fight was over as soon as it started. According to media accounts, Jose Aldo came out and threw a punch, which McGregor deflected. The Irishman countered with a straight punch of his own, to Aldo’s jaw, that knocked the champion out directly.

13 seconds.

That’s all people got for their $100. Was it worth it? I have no idea.

But it got me thinking about what Jose Aldo must have felt like. He trained months for this bout. A decorated champion, cultured in the art of both attack and defense. He was likely just getting ready to get ready. Moving his body cursorily, adrenaline flowing, knowing he had a good long battle in front of him.

Bam.

He’s lying on his back, staring at the little birdies circling his head.

“What just happened,” he would have thought, in Portuguese.
“Onde estou?”
“How could my life be changed, that radically, in just a few seconds?”

It’s an interesting question. Like the people watching the Boston Marathon a few years ago. One moment, life exists as expected, and then, two seconds later, it’s different forever.

The limbo, the not knowing, must be the worst part. Disoriented, distressed, wondering if things will ever be the same again?

You know who else felt like that? The little birdies I just finished looking at as I perused “Ornithological Photographs,” an excellent new book by Todd R. Forsgren, recently published by Daylight. (Good thing he uses that R. I’m sure we’d otherwise confuse him with the other Todd Forsgren.)

This is a book that does what I’m always asking: it shows us things we’ve never seen before. Sure, we all see birds every day, and I can spot a raven just by looking out my window for 8 seconds. (Yes, I counted.) But this is something new.

Mr. Forsgren, who comes by his interest in ornithology honestly, having been steeped in its mystery by his parents, has photographed countess birds who’ve just been caught in a net.

Flash. Bang.

You’re a Blue-Winged warbler, minding your own business. You’re thinking about food, because you always think about food. Mmmm, wouldn’t a little inchworm be delicious right about now? Or a lady-bug? That’s right, I love me some lady-bug.

Pow.

You’re caught in a net. Your wings are trapped. You have absolutely no idea what’s going on, and unlike Jose Aldo, you don’t speak Portuguese. In what code does your brain express its massive fear?

I have no idea.

But this book allows us to read into those eyes. To wonder, how might a little bird react to such a drastic change in circumstances?

Apparently, the artist accompanied ornithologists in the field, and then set up a makeshift studio each time, to capture the image while the birds were being temporarily studied. My first thought, before reading any text, was that he’d trapped and killed these guys to get the photographs.

Awful, I know, but that was just an initial impression. The truth makes much more sense. These are glimpses of temporary interactions, and the birds were released unharmed. (But perhaps with trackers in them?)

The book is definitely one-note, as the typological aspect is not really broken up. It might have been more dynamic if they’d come up with a way of balancing the aesthetic consistency. But I’m splitting hairs.

This is a fascinating group of pictures, and definitely one that gives us something fresh. It adds to the overall body of knowledge we develop when we look at photography. (And art, by extension.) We, the photography lovers, are not so different from fight fans, or bird freaks.

We like to look.

Bottom Line: Badass bird book. Enough said.

To Purchase “Ornithological Photographs” Visit Photo-Eye

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Jonathan Blaustein

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