street photography pioneer mark cohen brings unexhibited 70s images to new york
Mark Cohen reportedly has over 800,000 negatives that have never even been developed, but 'Closer' — his new show opening tonight on the Lower East Side — celebrates his intrusively spontaneous style with a few never-before-exhibited images.
Teeth, Buttons, Hair, Square, 1974
Back in October, legendary street photography Mark Cohen released his first career retrospective book, Frame, a tome that collects over 50 years of confrontationally intimate images — products of his boldly intuitive, shoot-from-the-hip approach. Though Cohen is one of the widely replicated style's pioneers, he didn't achieve notoriety by courting major gallerists or enrolling in an MFA program. Actually, he didn't even bother taking photographs in New York City; he shot the same small, industrial Pennsylvania neighborhood for half a century. "You can make a whole body of work from one little town and you don't have to go right to the middle of New York City or Paris to work as an artist," Cohen told i-D. "That work is almost all made within five or 10 miles of my house."
But New Yorkers now have a rare chance to see Cohen's gritty visual poetry on our home turf. This evening, Danziger Gallery opens Closer, a new show of Cohen's images from the early to mid 70s, many of which are being exhibited for the first time.
The show's title, according to its release, lifts inspiration from Cohen's trademark style: "At a time when street photography was finding its place by looking at the harmonic or dissonant intersections of people and their environment Cohen got closer to his subjects than anyone else."
Closer features a few images included in Frame — Hole in Shirt (the book's cover), Upside-Down Girl, and the immediately recognizable Bubble Gum, for example — but the exhibition seems to convey an exciting sense of newness even for those familiar with Cohen's work. While Frame brilliantly captured his focus on bundling and overcoats, Closer's selection of knobby knees, bare torsos, and grubby tank tops arguably celebrates warmer weather — an intrusive yet humanistic portrait of sticky city summers.
'Closer' is on view at Danziger Gallery May 10 - June 11. More information here.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Mark Cohen