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Style Magazine

Mark Cohen

Mar 30, 2012 10:09AM ● By Style

Photo by Dante Fontana

From the time he was six years old, Mark Cohen was smitten.

His parents dragged him to a travelling exhibit from the New York Museum of Modern Art called Family of Man. It was an entire exhibit of black and white photographs, and while the exhibit itself didn’t make a big impression, the catalogue of photos his mother bought on the way out of the museum was captivating. “I must have flipped through that catalogue a thousand times as I was growing up,” Cohen says. “To see how a two-dimensional picture, just ink on paper, could evoke so many emotions and feelings had a profound effect on me.”

Capturing that kind of power became a passion – he wanted to try and convey images that could have the same kind of effect on him, and others. He got his first 35-millimeter camera as a teenager and by the time he was 19, photography was an official passion and pursuit. He was a self-described “black and white purist” for a long time, but eventually learned the passion that came with capturing moments in color was just as fulfilling. Now, at the tender age of 61, he’s still shooting, still learning and still finding inspiration in almost anything. Indeed, it’s impossible to pin him down to one kind of subject matter.  

His work has no common denominators. He shoots abstracts, landscapes, people, close-ups and more. In his words, everything is fair game, which is why the camera goes with him almost anywhere. His worst fear is to be standing before a perfect image and have no way to capture it. And while his work shows the skills of composition and lighting that reflect a professional photographer, one of his favorite quotes is from Ansel Adams, who said, “The secret to a good picture is knowing where to stand.”

When he seeks his own inspiration, Cohen likes to head to wild places. “I much prefer to go to natural places as opposed to cities, and to see wild things instead of just objects,” he says. “When I backpack or kayak, the natural world unfolds to me. I think that work represents some of the best stuff I do.”

Ask him if he’s captured his masterpiece though, and his answer tells you that a masterpiece may not be what he wants. “The greatest compliment I ever got was when someone told me my picture made him seasick,” he says. “Something in that picture created a feeling in him. Any time my photographs can start a conversation about a memory or a feeling, that’s what I want from my work. To me, photographs are like a bookmark in our lives – they can bring you right back to a time and place in your life, and let you live that memory over and over again.”

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