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Photography professor picture perfect

Whit Forrester is featured in an exhibit at the DePaul Art Museum. Photo via bradley.edu

Prints of photographs laid scattered in boxes around the room. Standing out most prominently, a picture of a green, vine-like plant curled around its chipped reddish pot similar to a tiny dragon around its vast hoard.

Houseplants are assistant professor of art in residence, James “Whit” Forrester’s favorite photography subject.

“Plants are kind of like 3D photographic prints of the divine,” Forrester said. “Pretty much cross-culturally, around the world, light is seen as the physical manifestation of the divine … and plants are uniquely positioned to take that into themselves.”

Forrester has interactive artwork in the DePaul Art Museum’s New Age, New Age: Strategies for Survival exhibit. Observers can touch golden halos, which have a mild electric current running through them, and then touch each other, creating a pulsing sensation.

“[It’s] sort of essentially a way to, like … create a community,” Forrester said. “How do you use your body to be the site where you can connect with someone else, and the ways that identity can simultaneously bring us closer … but also isolate and fragment ourselves.”

Forrester was born in American Samoa, but grew up near Louisville, Kentucky. They took a year off between high school and college to earn money to buy a car and lived in for a year. Forrester earned their Bachelor’s of Arts in environmental studies at Oberlin College and a master’s in photography at Columbia College.

Their adviser was the same person who advised professor Margaret LeJeune, and helped connect them with the job at Bradley when LeJeune went on sabbatical.

Forrester was deeply interested in photography in high school, to the point of skipping the rest of their classes to work in the photography lab. Their interest waned after high school, but picked up soon after they attained their undergraduate degree.

“I went to a psychic who said I should devote my life to photography when I was 27,” Forrester said, adding that the psychic, an elderly Catholic woman named Judy, had made other predictions that were “scarily” accurate.

Forrester has taught classes on manipulated images, photography concepts and digital imaging. Photography, Forrester said, can be divided into “wet” and “dry” categories; photographs that are printed and developed in a darkroom and digital photographs.  

“Photography is basically just running light onto some sensitive surface,” Forrester said.

Forrester notes that the most difficult part of teaching has been balancing their new responsibilities with their artistic advancement.

“It’s one year … which means that all the momentum that I’m having with … these shows in Chicago and other places, you have to nurse those simultaneously,” Forrester said.

Forrester is moving back to Chicago soon, and then to New Orleans, where their partner was born. Judy the psychic predicted the move.

Forrester said that they will miss their time at Bradley.

“I kind of have loved it,” Forrester said. “[I have been] completely enamored with teaching.”

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