“I wanted to make it really clear that these are all my friends that I’ve done this with,” Mr. Foerster said. “I like knowing that kind of stuff. Sometimes it’s not said. A lot of these summer shows, it’s like you’re in it because you’re friends with whomever. Or so and so fucked so and so and now they want to be in it. I like being able to say, ‘These are my friends, this is their work.’ I mean instead of looking at my own stuff around the house, why not look at theirs?”
Mr. Foerster was working in his garden, wearing a dirty white tank top and a bathing suit. His body was covered in tattoos. One, on his left arm, was a depiction of his own face. It’s dangerous, he told The Observer, when your friend owns a tattoo parlor.
One side of his house at the corner of Ocean View and Brighton has a facade of fake brick nailed to aluminum siding. Its color is a swirl of seafoam green and gray. Inside, there were dishes in the sink and artworks in progress; the place had a lived-in smell. Despite his relative remoteness in deep Brooklyn, in the art world, Mr. Foerster is in demand. His work figured in a two-artist exhibition, with Kyle Thurman, this summer at West Street Gallery, a fashionable art space in a downtown apartment. In September, he will be included in a three-person show at Laurel Gitlin Gallery and will have a solo show at Martos Gallery in January.
Mr. Foerster grew up in the Toronto suburbs where he took photographs of his friends and printed them in zines using the copy machine at his father’s office. He came to New York in 2005 to attend the International Center of Photography, but dropped out after three months. It was too traditional. One of his teachers suggested he get a membership at the Camera Club of New York, a co-operative dark room whose past members include Alfred Stieglitz, Richard Avedon, Edward Steichen and Berenice Abbott. It was founded in 1884 and was an early advocate for making photography a canonical medium in the fine arts. Mr. Foerster couldn’t pay the membership fee, so he got a job doing maintenance on the club’s color processor. People would discard faulty materials around the building—photo paper with chemicals spilled across it, expired film—and Mr. Foerster would take them home and use them for his photographs.
“Everyone around there says, ‘Ryan will take anything,’” he said. “That paper from the ’70s? That old film? O.K. I’ll shoot on it.”
Ryan McGinley, a photographer of youth who is in his 30s and a darling of the international art scene, is an obvious touchstone in Mr. Foerster’s style, but the materials he uses give his work an oddly hallucinatory feel absent in Mr. McGinley’s comparatively more straightforward pictures. What might be a simple erotic image of a naked woman becomes an abstract study of light and color, with swirling swaths of purple and green superimposed over the image from the defective film. These accidental imperfections create a kind of statement about the process of taking a picture and developing it. Like those of the late German artist Sigmar Polke, who took a particular interest in printing and darkroom errors, Mr. Foerster’s photographs are more about photography itself than they are focused on the subject in front of the lens.