exist in art and in ideas quite as much as in women's clothes and in the world of the mind
they are much more dangerous, for instead of being put forward frankly as fashions they
are presented as the new truth.
How refreshing then, how salutary, how encouraging,
to find a man who is prepared laboriously to think things out for himself, who will work
alone for years to develop his own vision, his own technique, and who will not allow
himself to be deflected from his chosen path by so-called experts speaking an esoteric
language directed only at in-groups and which, as Anna Russell puts it "leave the
average person as befogged as before.''
In photography, as in so many other fields, it is the
loners who break the trail, who make the path that others can follow.
few; yet their originality is seen later to have led them straight into the mainstream
whilst the work of others, sometimes more immediately successful, is relegated to a mere
expression of the fashion of the times.
John Cohen is very definitely a loner. If he
had not been, he could never have produced the charming, sentimental, yet so very personal
photographs in this book. For in an age of tension and violence, when all of
us are continually bombarded by images of horror, to make photographs, solely for
pleasure, and expressing the gentler aspects of life, is to court the accusation of being
escapist, of deliberately ignoring the allegedly sole business of the photographer, which
is said to be realism and reportage, to be a mirror of the times.
In all his work John Cohen emphatically refuses to be tied down by such notions.
He insists on being himself, and in so doing he strikes a blow for the
freedom of the individual, and for the freedom of photography. With every
photograph he says: "there is more to life than dustbins and death, than weariness
and war; even in an overcrowded world there is room, and a need, for sweetness and
Light! That narrow band in the energy spectrum,
without which all life on earth would perish!
As Lord Kenneth Clark reminds us
"From Dante to Goethe, all the greatest exponents of civilisation have been obsessed
with light." This obsession is no stranger to photographers.
Indeed, since the photographic image is
made by the action of light, truth to light is truth to the medium of
photography! All John Cohen's photographs are made, simply and solely, by the
use of light. His magic is the magic of the luminous, his poetry is that of
The attractions of his work is all the greater for
the purity of the photographic technique, and its appeal all the more universal for being
couched in an imagery common to all men and intelligible to all.
From early beginnings in 1963, John
Cohen's work soon attracted attention. An article in the magazine
'Photography' in 1964, acceptance in the London Salon of Photography in 1965, the
principal trophy there in 1967: all were encouraging signs. But it was his one-man
show at the 'Wall of Colour,' Kodak which set the seal of success and of future
development on his work; for this was the first such exhibition which Kodak had given to
an amateur. It led to exhibitions in the Edinburgh Festival 1968, in the
Coliseum and in Grand Central Station, New York, in the National Film Theatre, London, and
in many worthwhile venues in the provinces.
But this portfolio is more, much more, than a one-man
show, fascinating though this aspect is in itself. It is also a 'how-to-do-it'
presentation. And this part is immensely useful to all who feel inclined to
use their camera imaginatively. For it turns out that far from needing
elaborate and expensive apparatus to produce his delightful and mysterious results, John
Cohen uses only bits and pieces which can be bought for modest sums anywhere, or may
already be lying about at home. My goodness, anyone can do it!
Well, anyone that is, who is gifted with imagination, persistence and patience - for
simple though the means may be, it is clear that the author himself has devoted time and
thought and effort to each of his pictures. But once again, how good to find
someone willing to reveal a trade secret for the sake of the spread of the art.
In this article, John Cohen extends the boundaries of
the possible in photography, and shows us all how we can do so too. What more
valuable service could he render to what Sir John Rotherstein has called "the
dominant and fascinating and only folk art of the twentieth century?"