Introduction to The Author


Sir George F. Pollock
Bt., M.A., F.R.P.S., F.R.S.A.


Equipment required to create photographs like 'Butterfly country' and  'Spirit of Spring'

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!

As Lord 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.

Indeed, 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 chiaroscuro.

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.

From 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 provinces.

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 art.

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?"

Sir George F. Pollock, President of the Royal Photographic Society (1978-80)

"How To do it" Article for Free

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Sir George F. Pollock Bt., M.A., F.R.P.S., F.R.S.A

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