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Frame by Mark Cohen review – small-town America in all its normality and oddness

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 ‘Singular’: Small Hand and Ball, 1987, from Frame. Photograph: Mark Cohen

 ‘Singular’: Small Hand and Ball, 1987, from Frame. Photograph: Mark Cohen

The term “shooting from the hip” could have been invented to describe Mark Cohen’s style of street photography. Like many of the 1960s pioneers, Cohen likes to surprise his subjects, capturing them as they pass by and often without them even being aware that they have been photographed.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, though – Garry Winogrand, say, or Bruce Gilden – Cohen’s images do not tend towards the cruel or the confrontational. Rather, there is a certain tenderness to the best shots, particularly when his subject matter is children or teenagers. A beautiful little book called Dark Knees, which accompanied a mini-retrospective of his work at Le Bal in Paris a few years ago, homed in on this aspect of his work to poetic effect, emphasizing just how singular a stylist Cohen is, not least in the way he crops the human figure or captures it from odd angles. ~ Sean O'Hagan

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Mark Cohen's Philadelphia Work Featured in "The Inquirer"

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Staff writer Samantha Melamed for The Inquirer discusses Mark Cohen's new working habits in Philadelphia.

Mark Cohen,  Two Young Women at Fence , 1975

Mark Cohen, Two Young Women at Fence, 1975

Cohen was motivated to move, finally, in 2013, only because he felt he had taken every photo there was to take in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.

"I would drive to Scranton and take pictures for five minutes," he said, "because I had done everything."

Relocating to Philadelphia has reinvigorated his practice. In a darkroom in the Center City apartment where Cohen lives with his wife, Lillian, archival boxes marked "2013," "2014," and "2015" sit on shelves, awaiting what he hopes will someday soon be a show of his Philadelphia photographs. –Samantha Melamed

From The Inquirer's online posting from 28 October 2015.

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Mark Cohen Featured in Slate Magazine

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Striking and Surreptitious Photos That Capture the Grit of Pennsylvania in the ’70s

by Jordan G. Teicher
Excerpted from Slate Magazine 24 August, 2015

Boy in Yellow Shirt Smoking, 1977

Many people who’ve been photographed by Mark Cohen probably never saw him coming. For years, on the streets of his home city, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and surrounding working-class towns, Cohen shot quickly and assertively. He held his flash in one hand and his camera in the other and shot extremely close to his subjects, frequently focusing on a single body part or article of clothing. He never looked through his viewfinder to compose the frame. 

“If you’re very close to people and someone takes a swing at you, you don’t want to have your head behind a viewfinder because you can’t be aware of the situation,” he said.

Flashed Boy in Blue Jacket With Six Shooter  , 1974.

Flashed Boy in Blue Jacket With Six Shooter, 1974.

Girl and Man at Road, 1975.

Girl Holding Blackberries, 1975.

Cohen’s new retrospective book, Frame, which the University of Texas Press will publish in October, traces his singular, gritty vision through more than three decades of images. As a teenager, Cohen learned to take photos by taking the bus to the center of town and practicing his skills on strangers as he wandered around. He studied engineering at Penn State and took some art history courses. Back in Wilkes-Barre, he opened a commercial photography business but spent much of his time taking his own personal photos on the streets. In the 1970s, he had a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art, and his work was collected all over the world, but his life has always been focused in Pennsylvania.

“I would come to New York for three or four hours at a time, then take the bus or drive back to Wilkes-Barre. I never stayed over in New York unless I had a show. I didn’t have any real connections. I taught at Cooper Union, I taught at the New School. But I was never really part of the New York scene,” he said.

Frame also includes some infrequently seen photographs Cohen made during trips to Europe in the 1960s, which were inspired by an early influence, Henri Cartier-Bresson. While his subject matter is important, Cohen said his own subconscious is just as pivotal in the creation of a photograph. “When I start to make a picture I have to be attracted to the subject somehow. I have to see some button or some tattoo or some kind of leg or shoulder. Something has to draw me visually into the picture,” he said.

For complete read please visit Slate.

Frame is due out in October and is available for pre-order now.

Mark Cohen's "Dark Knees" in Paris Review

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A Conversation About Mark Cohen’s Dark Knees

Originally published on 7 May 2014 in The Paris Review
by Jason Fulford and Leanne Shapton

Bubblegum, 1975; from Dark Knees (Éditions Xavier Barral, 2013) © Mark Cohen

Dark Knees is a 2013 book that accompanies a recent exhibition of Mark Cohen’s photographs from the 1970s, though it feels more like a cryptic archive of fragments—tightly cropped, mostly black and white pictures of parts of the body and objects on the ground. Cohen was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he’s lived and worked for the last seven decades.

Leanne Shapton and Jason Fulford are the founders of J&L Books.

Jason Fulford: I saw Cohen’s show at Le Bal. It was funny to see photographs of Pennsylvania in Paris. I’d like to meet him. I saw a video of him shooting on the street in 1982. He’s pretty sneaky—getting up really close to somebody and then flashing and moving away fast, no conversation. I think he has a thing for legs and feet.

Leanne Shapton: Girls, legs, midsections, hands.

JF: He cites surrealism as an influence. Body parts. I wouldn’t call them portraits. They’re more like pictures of clothes on people.

LS: I’d like to see that footage of him. Looking at the work, it does feel he’s moving, he sneaking, he’s snatching, and it’s almost like he’s looking out of the corners of his eyes. You don’t feel the fixed point with him—you feel it’s sidelong, that he doesn’t want to engage directly.

JF: I kind of wish I hadn’t seen the video. Have you ever seen footage of Daido Moriyama photographing in Tokyo? He uses a point-and-shoot camera and he’s very casual about it. His arms are hanging down straight with a camera in one hand. He moves through the city like a shark, slowly and methodically, in and out of stores, in and out of malls and alleyways, up and down escalators and stairwells, and his instincts seem honed to know when to shoot from the hip and when he can stop and compose. But he never gets that close to people. Cohen shoots with a wide-angle lens, so when he’s got a close up of a face he’s really only a few inches away. Also, it was a different time—people related to cameras differently. In high school, in the eighties, I used to go to the airport and take pictures of people. You can’t do that so easily now. Security won’t let you, people won’t let you. That’s the striking thing about the video of Cohen shooting—people hardly react to him. 

LS: Do you think these pictures were edited by him then—in the seventies—or now? The feeling I get just turning the pages is that it’s speaking to what we’d appreciate now—not the feeling that I get from, say, those Lee Friedlander books that were shot and published in the seventies and eighties, which feel “of the time.” Always kind of a funny tension when you find old work. Makes me think of Vivian Meier’s stuff—what work she felt was her best and what we think is her best. It makes me want to say to photographers, Publish work now. Don’t wait till you can edit it in retrospect years later.

JF: Cohen would shoot in the day, come home and develop the negatives, make dinner, and then edit the work. He says he’s never gone back to the images he initially rejected. But they’re all sitting there still, in his archive. I’d guess that Diane Dufor, the curator at Le Bal, edited this work with Cohen for the Paris show and for the book. The pictures are titled with simple words or phrases. Sometimes they’re obvious—Three Bare Feet—but then sometimes they make you reconsider the picture—Boy Stands in Front.

To view the rest of the conversation, click here.


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Featuring works by twenty artists from our gallery roster, Passing Through pays homage to the transience of all things and the power of the photographer to immortalize experience with the click of the camera shutter. The exhibition celebrates the essential magic of the medium, which allows us to give pause in a world of rushing and inescapable impermanence.  Together, the disparate photographs and imagery of Passing Through form a journey with its own unique pace, one that mirrors the ebbs and flows of life’s seasons from the youthful rush of possibility through the expectations and trials of middle age and beyond. It is a trip by car across the American landscape, a bicycle excursion through the city, a waltz across a romantically lit room, the shifting sky-scape with ever-changing clouds, an unexpected and devastating automobile crash. The physical world traversed and inhabited by the artists in the exhibition echoes the topography of our internal worlds in that both are subject to the great equalizer of time over which we can never exert power.  To hold onto what invariably slips past, and give undeniable presence to a subject even as it begins to fade, is the photographer’s attempt to counter the fundamental dissolution of existence, out of which the most profound beauty, loss and aspirations materialize.