Todd R. Forsgren's photographs of birds tangled nets are undeniably provocative. They immediately create expectations of all sorts of themes--the inherent struggle between nature and civilization, the loss of ecosystems. But look a bit longer and you’ll find something closer to intimacy.
See, the ornithological series was inspired by the iconic field guides of Roger Tory Peterson and by James Audubon's towering The Birds of America--a first edition of which is the world’s most sought-after and most expensive book.
But whereas Audubon had to first shoot birds and then arrange them with pins and wires to create the paintings in his book, modern ornithologists use what are known as mist nets to catch (and then study) birds. As Forsgren notes in his artist’s statement: "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 measured, aged, sexed, and banded with an individually numbered anklet. … Then the bird is released, unharmed."
The genius of Forsgren’s work is that captures the images during that "fragile and embarrassing moment before [the birds] disappear back into the woods, and into data." The birds are caught off guard, probably scared, though ultimately unharmed and let go. Suddenly the image seems more intimate, as does the entire process of studying birds, which requires great care on the part of biologists.
In an interview with 20X200, which has some of these photographs available for sale, Forsgren elaborates:
"Gathering this information is difficult. It’s a struggle, as intimacy often is. But I wanted to take photographs about the process of getting to know a bird deeply. Initially, most people think the images are tragic if they’re not familiar with the mist-netting and bird-banding; even a bit difficult to look at. But I hope that, as they consider this moment more carefully, they’ll come to understand and appreciate the valuable information that biologists can collect using these techniques."