Selected as one of the Best Books of 2013 by Todd Hido, Chris Boot
Shortlisted for Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation Photography Catalogue of the Year Award 2014
"I became a surrealist because I kept walking around the same blocks, and I started taking a picture of a guy’s shoe. I didn’t know what I was doing exactly. I was just being led by whatever I would see."
Mark Cohen was born in 1943 in Wilkes-Barre, a small Pennsylvania mining town. A figure of the street photography genre which dominated American photography in the early 1970s, he is also the inventor of a distinctive photographic language, marked by a fleeting arrangement of lines and, at the same time, an instinctive grasp of the organic, sculptural quality of forms. Two photographs hang opposite each other in his studio: one from Henri Cartier-Bresson’s surrealist period and another by Aaron Siskind. The elegant geometry of one and the dry plenitude of the other transpire in the work of Mark Cohen, which John Szarkowski showed at the MoMA as of 1973.
Over the past 40 years Mark Cohen has walked the length and breadth of the streets in and around his hometown, seizing - or rather extracting - fragments of gestures, postures and bodies. In his photos we see headless torsos, smiling children, willing subjects yet still frighteningly vulnerable, thinly sketched limbs and coats worn like protective cloaks.
"My favourite book of the year is one of the simplest. Published to accompany an exhibition of Mark Cohen’s work, at Le Bal in Paris, the photographs featured are his disorienting close ups of pieces of humans, and other objects, taken on the streets of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylania, mainly during the 1970s. It's a modest, book, with a startling beauty: the photographs, which are exhilarating; their exquisite reproduction, mainly in rich, soft black and white, but with the occasional varnished color picture by contrast; the use of Cohen’s banal descriptors of each of the pictures, in his own naïve hand, as the book’s text (‘Flashed head top,’ ‘Dog between houses,’ ‘Snow falling in alley,’ ‘Ants on sidewalk,’ etc.); the rhythm of the book; and its brilliantly understated design. There’s a short, sharp essay by Vince Aletti, at the back, offering as much guidance as you need. Thrilling." - Chris Boot