Mark Cohen (born August 24, 1943) is an American photographer best known for his innovative close-up street photography. Cohen was born and lived in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania until 2013. He attended Penn State University and Wilkes College between 1961 and 1965, and opened a commercial photo studio in 1966.
The majority of the photography for which Mark Cohen is known is shot in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area (also known as the Wyoming Valley), a historic industrialized region of northeastern Pennsylvania. Characteristically Cohen photographs people close-up, using a wide-angle lens and a flash, mostly in black and white, frequently cropping their heads from the frame, concentrating on small details. He has used 21 mm, 28 mm, and 35 mm focal length, wide-angle, lenses and later on 50 mm. Cohen has described his method as "intrusive."
Discussing his influences with Thomas Southall in 2004 he cites "... so many photographers who followed Cartier-Bresson
, like Frank
." He also recognizes the influence of Diane Arbus
. Whilst acknowledging these influences he says: "I knew about art photography... Then I did these outside the context of any other photographer."
Cohen's major books of photography are Grim Street
(2005), True Color
(2007), and Mexico
(2016). His work was first exhibited in a group exhibition at George Eastman House
in 1969 and he had his first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art
in New York City in 1973. He was awarded Guggenheim Fellowships
in 1971 and 1976 and received a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1975.
In 2013 Cohen moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Mark Cohen was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania where he lived and photographed for most of his life. (He now lives in Philadelphia.) His work was first exhibited in 1969 at the George Eastman House
but came to prominence with his first solo exhibition at MoMA
in 1973. Known primarily for his black and white images, Cohen was also a pioneer of the 1970s color movement that changed American photography.
Shooting in the gritty environs of working class Pennsylvania, Cohen brought to street photography a literal and innovative closeness that came from his style of holding the camera at arm's length without looking through the viewfinder while using an unusually wide-angle lens. Intrusive but elegant, by turns brutal and sensuous, Cohen’s cropped bodies and faces and gritty still lives and landscapes reveal a finely tuned aesthetic and consistency. No background behind the looming foreground figures is without interest. No random object is observed without purpose. "They're not easy pictures. But I guess that's why they're mine."
Cohen is the recipient of two Guggenheim Grants
and his work is in the collections of major museums from the U.S. to Japan. His most recent retrospective in 2013 at Le Bal
in Paris and the accompanying publication Dark Knees
were singled out by critics around the world as outstanding achievements in photography.
Source: Danziger Gallery
In many of the images, the points of attraction are clear: a giant football eclipsing the skinny torso of a young boy; the shining eyes of a black cat; a woman_’_s bare midriff beneath a pair of high-waisted cutoff shorts. We can imagine glancing or even staring at these subjects ourselves, taking in their rough-hewn idiosyncrasies. But it is in the moment that follows, when most of us would avert our eyes and move on, that the American street photographer Mark Cohen makes his work, moving forward, toward children, young women, dirty and shirtless strangers, until his wide-angle lens is close enough to bump bellies. In the nineteen-seventies, shooting in and around his native Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a small industrial city far outside the urban centers where street photography was born, Cohen pioneered an aggressive, if not invasive, approach to his craft, shortening the distance between photographer and subject until heads were lost to the frame’s edge and only collar bones and clipped limbs remained. “I have been pushed and shoved and screamed at, but nothing serious,”
he has said. “I am always aware of the edge.”
Source: The New Yorker
“Cohen’s black-and-white photos… are deliberately disconcerting, almost vulgar… Heads are cropped out of the frame; truncated hands, legs and arms loom monstrously into view; perspective warps. Cohen wasn’t alone in his harsh, comic view of down-home America, but his in-your-face take and fragmentary results were jarringly unique, and much imitated.”
-- Vince Aletti
Source: The Village Voice