Fredrik Marmsater Gallerie

Fredrik Marmsater’s High Mountain Chemistry

Until digital cameras came along, photography was chemistry. It’s easy to picture the darkroom and its trays of chemicals: hydroquinone, acetic acid, ammonium thiosulfate—the developer, the stop bath and the fixer. But even the creative act of opening the shutter, allowing photons into the camera to oxidize halide crystals in the film, is chemical reaction.

Before he became a photographer at age 35, Fredrik Marmsater was a biochemist, creating cancer medications for a pharmaceutical company in Boulder, CO. When he quit in 2010, burned out and disillusioned by, as he says, “medical research for profit,” he left behind the test tubes and lab coats (not to mention the generous salary), but retained the skill of visual problem solving.

“Organic chemistry is a lot of three-dimensional models,” Marmsater says, drinking a beer at a Grand Teton Brewing near his home in Victor, ID. “Picturing molecules and electrons and how they dock into proteins in a reaction—I could always visualize it.” It’s similar to the way he now visualizes a photograph before he even lifts his camera. “It’s how you see a setting, and how you put your subject in that setting, and being able to read a topo map and figure out the right spot to shoot for backlighting,” he says, speaking quickly and with a vestige of accent from his native Sweden. “I’m a sucker for backlighting.”…

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