Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mark Cohen: Strange Evidence

Working primarily in and around the small Pennsylvania cities of Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, American street photographer Mark Cohen (b. 1943) photographs people and places encountered at random. In the 1970s he distinguished himself from older peers such as Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander by pushing aspects of street photography to extremes, producing pictures with little evident meaning and jarring compositions, such as faces or bodies only partly included in the picture frame. This exhibition of nearly 70 black-and-white and color photographs made during the past 40 years reveals elemental aspects of human behavior and urban life. Mark Cohen: Strange Evidence was on view October 23, 2010 through February 2011 in the Levy Gallery of the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The exhibition focused on Cohen’s images from the 1970s, through which he first garnered international attention. He employed a wide-angle lens with a long depth of field that permitted him to range very close to his subjects. He also frequently used a flash, such as in his 1975 print

Flashed Man on Square, which accents a lone figure sitting on a park bench,

or Flashed Man, Scranton, Pennsylvania, from 1988, which captures a man’s startled expression in an aggressively utilized flash.

Cohen rarely used his viewfinder, instead positioning the camera away from his body as he quickly walked by subjects, snapping pictures. This mitigated the aggressive quality of his encounters, but also introduced a strong note of chance into his images, leading to seeming compositional mishaps, such as Jacket/Rain Drops from 1978, featuring a figure from neck to waist that completely fills the frame. Yet while the photographs frequently appear to have no clear subject, Cohen captures small details that transmit the emotion of the photograph: women clutch at bags — as in Lizard Bag, 1973 — or drag deeply on cigarettes while regarding the camera with a wary eye. His subjects often stare directly at the camera, looking both aggressive and vulnerable when caught on the sidewalk or in more private settings, such as Man Drying Hands, taken in a public bathroom in 1974.

Cohen has remained true to this format during the past four decades. Capturing a subject’s reaction to the act of photography remains a key theme in his work, although he has modified his choice of subjects somewhat in response to changing social mores and his own evolving relationship to people of different ages and genders. Throughout his work runs an ongoing evaluation of cities like Wilkes-Barre, where he lives. Although historical documentation is not Cohen’s aim, the city’s changing character is charted through photographs that depict the public square, the bus stop, outdoor summer gatherings, and many backyards.

Girl with Bat and Ball, 1977 (negative), 2008 (print). Mark Cohen, American, born 1943. Dye transfer print, Sheet: 14 x 17 inches (35.6 x 43.2 cm). Collection of the artist.

Bubble Gum, 1975. Mark Cohen, American, born 1943. Gelatin silver print, Image: 11 13/16 x 17 11/16 inches (30.0 x 44.9 cm). Sheet: 16 1/16 x 19 15/16 inches (40.8 x 50.6 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Douglas Mellor, 1988.

More images Here