“I never want to see another picture of ________.” Industry veterans share their pet peeves on themes in contemporary photography. In this series they present their “rule” along with one photographer that breaks the rule, reminding us that great work is the exception to the rule.
I never want to see another abstract photograph of a distressed surface. Camera lenses pointed close enough to a subject will turn almost anything into an abstract photograph. A camera is unable to produce a true abstraction—it can only record what is in front of it. This forces the conversation to revolve around what the subject matter is. Most photographers making abstract pictures will say that the what doesn’t matter and that their image is only about line, form, texture, and so on. Too often, these types of photographs feel like a cheap way to get the look of an abstract painting without having to actually paint. And too often, they feel flat—lacking the depth and texture needed to pull off the illusion. Richard Alan Cohen takes a different approach.
In his series Waterlines, Cohen makes no attempts at abstraction for its own sake. His “what” is right there in the series title and is a perfect subject matter for the “why.” He photographs distressed boat hulls not with the intention of reducing them into just lines, shapes, and colors, but instead explores the minimal elements required to form a landscape in the mind’s eye. He is not trying to hide the fact that these photographs are of the undersides of boats. Instead, he uses their waterlines to create an entirely new one—one that only exists through Cohen’s careful framing and our own psychological search for recognition. In Cohen’s photographs, the waterline becomes a coastline, corroded fiberglass becomes weather, and the footprints of barnacles become stars. He embraces the subject matter beautifully by making a strong conceptual connection between the subject—a boat—and the final image—an abstract photograph reminiscent of a seascape.