Review: Mark Cohen at Rose Gallery
One sign of a generous photographic image is its continuously unspooling details, narratives and readings. As long as you attend to it, it just keeps unfurling. Mark Cohen’s photographs at Rose Gallery are like that: small snippets of reality, densely packed with possibility.
The pictures were shot in the artist’s hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., mostly during the 1970s, commissioned by the George Eastman House to encourage Cohen to try Kodak color film. (The prints on view are from a recently released portfolio of 14-by-17-inch dye transfers.) Cohen had established himself as an assertive street photographer in the vein of William Klein and Lee Friedlander, and with this body of work, he added bold color to ferociously honest gesture.
Cohen’s pictures are lean and tight, radically trimmed of pictorial fat. Heads and feet are commonly missing; fragmentary details tell the story. Naked torsos of two young boys lie on an “Improvised Beach” of newspaper atop dirt. A man in the proverbial and literal driver’s seat cradles his beefy, sticky-nosed baby. The white whiff of smoke released from the red-slicked lips of a woman wrapped in a royal blue scarf adds up to a close-cropped grab of natural Americana.
The mining town setting plays a bit part in this epic of stills, the images being more about moment than place. Each picture is an improvised steal; even the posed shots reveal the unexpected. Buck teeth, a toothless grin and protectively closed smile rhyme in a photograph of three young boys. Proustian power seeps from a picture of a lanky girl, shown neck to thigh, her navy blue top turned up at the bottom to nest a small crop of blackberries that have stained her fingers and nails. Grimy, tender, true, these moments keep on lasting.
-- Leah Ollman
Rose Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 264-8440, through May 2. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Above: "Three Boys Posing, Wilkes-Barre, PA" (1975), dye transfer print. Credit: Mark Cohen/Rose Gallery