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Alumnus Jason Forman Documents His Journey Across Canada

Rowboat photograph by Jason Forman

From time to time, any artist must dip back into the well of inspiration to keep his or her work fresh and relevant. Last year, School of Photography alumnus Jason Forman decided to take a trip to Canada. He traveled from province to province in our friendly neighbor to the north, all the while compiling a collection of outstanding photography as a document of that trip.

A few months ago, his work drew the notice of Canada's CBC Radio One, so they scheduled Jason for an interview. Jason was kind enough to discuss his experiences as an interview subject on Canadian radio, his trek across Canada, and his time at the Academy:

You recently finished a three-month trek across Canada. Can you talk about that experience?

This was an incredible experience. I felt the need to make a big trip, so I planned this journey across Canada. From a personal perspective, it was a challenge but very rewarding; from the planning, to the execution, to the lonely stretches on country roads. But I look back at all of the places I saw and the people I met and it was such a satisfying experience. Canada is a far more complex place than I imagined; I loved learning about it and am looking forward to returning.

In terms of the photography I produced, I am proud of what I accomplished. Three months in actuality is not that long when you cover that kind of territory, so I always thought I should be producing more images. But when I look back through the thousands of images I captured, I am pretty happy. Aside from the emotional side of the art I created, this was also an exceptional practical experience in terms of the photography. I was able to gauge how I work over an extended period of time. I had to plan, purchase equipment, make arrangements with people, and pretty much be on my own.

Work Houses photograph by Jason Forman

How did Canadian National Radio approach you about your work?

This is a good story. When I was traveling up Vancouver Island at the beginning of my trip, I stopped in a small town called Qualicum Beach just for a few minutes for a break and to take some pictures. While I was shooting, a brother and sister rode up on their bicycles (they were heavy-duty cyclists). They asked if I could take a picture of them with the view and we began talking. I told them about my trip and we discussed places to go, etc.

After a few minutes, the sister said that if I ever made it to Calgary, that I could stay with her and her family. I knew Canadians were friendly, but this was such a nice gesture after just talking for about ten minutes. So I did stay with them in Calgary. It turns out that she has a radio show on the CBC and she mentioned my trip to one of the producers. Then, it progressed from there. I consider myself very lucky.

The interview experience was a lot of fun. It was conducted when I returned to San Francisco at KALW. They just plugged in a few wires and the host in Vancouver was talking in my headset. It was addicting and I would love to be on the radio again.

First Nation photograph by Jason Forman

How did you decide that you wanted to pursue photography as a career?

Well, I don't think it was the traditional path. Photography is my second career; I used to be a software consultant. I first discovered photography in high school and was very involved with it. I went to college and studied business and I didn't really do work in the darkroom during that time. I still photographed, but more as a hobby than anything else.

A few years into my consulting career, a friend told me about a community center in Chicago that offered photography classes at night. I enrolled and realized how much I missed photography, which prompted me to drop everything and enroll in a real art school, the Academy, and give a photography career a shot.

How do you recall your time at the Academy?

I enjoyed my time at the Academy. There is a good community of people in the Photography department; students, faculty, and staff, which made it feel like a place I wanted to be.

A few classes stood out for me. My Introduction to Photography class, taught by John Vano, was a great beginning. It's important to start off with a strong foundation and this class was a good one. Location Lighting, taught by Kent Marshall, was a good one for me because I am always shooting on location. Editorial Photography, taught by Caren Alpert, stands out because she taught us about the business side of things in addition to the photography itself.

I don't want to diminish the others because I had a good overall experience. These just jump to mind.

Before branching out on your own, you worked for Wired Magazine. What was your role there? How did you navigate the transition from academia to the professional world?

I worked at Wired in their Photography department, working in pre- and post-production, as well as helping them develop a database that helped them run the photography operations.

Curling photograph by Jason Forman

I think it is important to find some people who are working photographers and try to learn as much as possible from them; through internships, as an assistant, or just find time to chat. While I was at the Academy, the School of Photography helped me acquire an internship, and that was such a great help. It gives you a glimpse into the real workings of how a photographer conducts business, both behind the camera and the business aspect. Those kind of connections really help you navigate the next steps after school.

What are you working on now?

I'm doing a few different things. To help balance out the ups and downs of income, I consult for some other photographers, helping out both in the business and technical (digital) aspects of photography. I am also re-working my portfolio to include images from the Canadian journey. Additionally, I recently began a documentary photo essay on an organization called The Family Link; they host people from out of town who are visiting relatives with terminal diseases.

Autumn photograph by Jason Forman

What are your plans for the future?

It's hard to know the future with photography, which is both exciting and nerve-wracking. That's also true of my plans for my life; photography and my life are intertwined, for better or worse -- I think for the better. I plan to continue to travel, and hopefully that will open some more doors down the road.

For more information on our Photography program, please visit our Photography School pages.

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