Fashions exist in art and in ideas quite as much as in women's clothes and
in the world of the mind they are much more dangerous, for instead of
being put forward frankly as fashions they are presented as the new truth.
How refreshing then, how salutary,
how encouraging, to find a man who is prepared laboriously to think things
out for himself, who will work alone for years to develop his own vision,
his own technique, and who will not allow himself to be deflected from his
chosen path by so-called experts speaking an esoteric language directed
only at in-groups and which, as Anna Russell puts it "leave the
average person as befogged as before.''
In photography, as in so many other
fields, it is the loners who break the trail, who make the path that
others can follow. They are few; yet their originality is seen
later to have led them straight into the mainstream whilst the work of
others, sometimes more immediately successful, is relegated to a mere
expression of the fashion of the times.
John Cohen is very definitely a
loner. If he had not been, he could never have produced the
charming, sentimental, yet so very personal photographs in this
book. For in an age of tension and violence, when all of
us are continually bombarded by images of horror, to make photographs,
solely for pleasure, and expressing the gentler aspects of life, is to
court the accusation of being escapist, of deliberately ignoring the
allegedly sole business of the photographer, which is said to be realism
and reportage, to be a mirror of the times.
In all his work John Cohen emphatically refuses to be tied down by such
notions. He insists on being himself, and in so doing he
strikes a blow for the freedom of the individual, and for the freedom of
photography. With every photograph he says: "there is
more to life than dustbins and death, than weariness and war; even in an
overcrowded world there is room, and a need, for sweetness and light.''
Light! That narrow band in the energy
spectrum, without which all life on earth would perish!
Kenneth Clark reminds us "From Dante to Goethe, all the greatest
exponents of civilisation have been obsessed with light." This obsession is no stranger to photographers.
since the photographic image is made by the action of light, truth to light
is truth to the medium of photography!
All John Cohen's
photographs are made, simply and solely, by the use of light. His magic is the magic of the luminous, his poetry is that of the
The attractions of his work is all the
greater for the purity of the photographic technique, and its appeal all the
more universal for being couched in an imagery common to all men and
intelligible to all.
early beginnings in 1963, John Cohen's work soon attracted
attention. An article in the magazine 'Photography' in 1964,
acceptance in the London Salon of Photography in 1965, the principal trophy
there in 1967: all were encouraging signs. But it was his one-man show
at the 'Wall of Colour,' Kodak which set the seal of success and of future
development on his work; for this was the first such exhibition which Kodak
had given to an amateur. It led to exhibitions in the Edinburgh
Festival 1968, in the Coliseum and in Grand Central Station, New York, in
the National Film Theatre, London, and in many worthwhile venues in the
But this portfolio is more, much more,
than a one-man show, fascinating though this aspect is in
itself. It is also a 'how-to-do-it' presentation. And this part is immensely useful to all who feel inclined to use their
camera imaginatively. For it turns out that far from needing
elaborate and expensive apparatus to produce his delightful and mysterious
results, John Cohen uses only bits and pieces which can be bought for modest
sums anywhere, or may already be lying about at home. My
goodness, anyone can do it! Well, anyone that is, who is gifted
with imagination, persistence and patience - for simple though the means may
be, it is clear that the author himself has devoted time and thought and
effort to each of his pictures. But once again, how good to find
someone willing to reveal a trade secret for the sake of the spread of the
In this article, John Cohen extends the
boundaries of the possible in photography, and shows us all how we can do so
too. What more valuable service could he render to what Sir John
Rotherstein has called "the dominant and fascinating and only folk art
of the twentieth century?"