On the Streets of Wilkes-Barre, PA
Looking for style in some very unexpected places.
You can’t really call Mark Cohen an outsider artist (one of his earliest shows, in 1973, was at the Museum of Modern Art). But he has a true maverick sensibility and his photographs look like they were taken by an impatient, aggressive amateur. The terrific color and black-and-white images in his new exhibition at Danziger Gallery are typical. Nearly all of them were made in the 1970s on streets in and around his hometown, Wilkes-Barre, a Pennsylvania coal-mining hub that has seen better days. Cohen ran a photo studio that turned out conventional portraits, but his personal work broke all the rules. Out on the street, he wasn’t concerned with pleasing his subjects, much less flattering them; portraiture was the last thing on his mind. Because he tended to hold his camera at his side and shoot without looking through the viewfinder, faces are rare in Cohen’s work and bodies are brutally cropped. There are happy accidents here, but no mistakes. Cohen has one of the keenest eyes around. The headless torsos and truncated limbs that result from his hit-and-run approach are sculptural but hardly lifeless. The work has a rude vitality—a combination of wit, verve, and nerve that can be as alarming as it is thrilling. Cohen’s style has already influenced the work of fashion photographers looking for gritty authenticity (and a way to focus close-cropped attention on the garment). Many of the images at Danziger look like avant-garde fashion work and the one seen here appears readymade for an accessories story. The woman’s high-collared faux fur coat is the center of attention, but it draws the eye to her chunky earring and the gold clip in her swept-up hair. All that’s missing is a ring or two on that gesturing hand.
Mark Cohen is on view at Danziger Gallery, 527 West 23rd Street, through June 20.