PhotoNOLA: Richard Alan Cohen: Moonlit and Waterline
The photographs of Richard Alan Cohen require some imagination. When Richard sat down at my table at PhotoNOLA, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, but I enjoyed his inventive spirit and way of considering our planet. Growing up on the fringes of Hollywood where stage sets and amusement parks developed my love of imaginary worlds, Richard’s created universes filled with craggy mountains and verdant valleys in his series Moonlit were in a way, familiar. I truly appreciated his desire to perhaps step back into childhood wonderment in order to create this joyful celebration of the earth and cosmos. The subject matter for this project are moss covered tree stumps that are set against Hubble telescoped skies as a way to play with our perceptions and perspectives. I am also featuring his painterly series, Waterline, which is a nod to mid century modern art.
Photography has provided me the ability to continue the three most important motivations of my career in research – discovery, imagination, and creativity. Discovering something new in the ordinary, imagining the concept that unites the images with the message, and creating the best possible presentation to share my vision, remains much the same process as my previous career with many of the same rewards. My recent photographic projects have resulted from seeking larger spaces within smaller ones. Grand imaginary landscapes have jumped out to me from abstract patterns on the sides of boat hulls. I have conceived nocturnal desert scenes in the dying fronds of agave cacti. And I have envisioned otherworldly mountainous peaks in mossy decaying tree stumps. One of my favorite inspirations is from Minor White: “..not only photograph things for what they are, but for what else they are.” – Richard Alan Cohen
Richard Alan Cohen is a former biomedical research scientist who has completely transferred his medium of research to the visual image. He graduated from Bowdoin College where he co-majored in science and art, and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Throughout a career in biomedical research Richard kept in touch with his art through photography, oil and watercolor painting, and pottery. He is now a full-time fine art photographer living in Litchfield County, CT. A member of the Griffin Museum of Photography (Winchester, MA), Richard participated in the Atelier photographer development course in 2014. He is a juried member of Gallery on the Green (Canton, CT) where he has had recent solo shows, and he is represented by the Kingman Gallery (Deer Isle, ME), close to many of the boat hulls and tree stumps he has photographed. Richard has received jurors’ awards in group shows at Fotofoto Gallery (Huntington, NY) where he won first prize, the Robert Levy Gallery of the New Hampshire Artists’ Association, and the Westport (MA) Art Group. He was chosen to participate in two 5-person shows in 2018 at Panopticon Gallery (Boston, MA), and at the Sohn Gallery (Lenox, MA). His portfolio “Overboard” will be exhibited in a solo show at the Griffin Museum in June 2019.
The photographs that comprise “Moonlit” originated during daily hikes during which I noticed an especially abundant crop of moss growing on tree stumps. I read that the increases in temperature and humidity that we are experiencing could dramatically increase the rates of moss growth and wood rot – local evidence of climate change! Before they were consumed, I sought to create a series of portraits of these shrinking tree remnants. I could think of no better way to honor their existence than by giving them a towering perspective, and to light them with clear moon glow and starry skies (provided by the Hubble Space Telescope). The otherworldliness seen in each frame is intentional, meant to set these tree stumps apart from the errors of our world that may be affecting them. My hope is that respect for nature will lead to the changes needed to preserve it! “Moonlit” images are presented on glossy paper in order to create the clearest view possible of these alternate worlds.
Images in my “Waterline” series began as photographs of the waterline painted along the hulls of boats sitting on their cradles in boatyards, awaiting their return to the sea. As a teenager, I spent the springtime scraping and painting, preparing similar boat hulls for the season ahead. The waterline is often encrusted with the residues of year(s) past. Pausing to study this evidence of where the boat has been, one perceives that the waterline provides an horizon. Above and below that are details of imagined landscapes, perhaps those that could be seen from the boats themselves when they sailed on the water. In developing these images, I share my own imagination and provide the seed for each viewer to form their own remembered landscapes. This project is ultimately an exploration of the minimal elements required to form a landscape in the mind’s eye – the waterline as coastline, the texture as weather, the footprint of barnacles as stars. “Waterline” images are presented on textured watercolor paper to reflect the surfaces from which they are derived.
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