Friday, March 2
When I entered graduate school to study photography in 1969, the medium was in transition. Photography had long been used to make visible the previously unknown and unverified mysteries of the world. Photography had been the means to peer into areas previously unavailable to our own senses. Its truthfulness rested upon the viewer’s faith in its unmanipulated technology. The fragile authenticity of photographic truth rested upon what was not done to the negative. But in the 1920s and then again in the 1960s, artists were, in all creative mediums, adding interpretation to perception to redefine the meaning of reality.
At the time of its invention in 1839, photography’s extended exposure times of twenty minutes or more duration made it, like painting, an unimpulsive form of memorialization, poetic yet truthful. The instructive work of this period was made by pointing the camera at static objects. From the 1880s forward, technological advances in photography allowed truth to be visible in exposure times approaching, in the twentieth century, a millionth of a second. The arc of every technological innovation within the medium carried film and camera toward capturing a thinner slice of time.
As a graduate student, I felt obligated to follow the traditions of photography while not wanting to be bound by them. I wanted to use photography to see more than the human eye can see. I began to use extended time. Each frame of the film was exposed for one-second, approximately 100 times longer than normal. The camera was hand-held. The film was processed up to eight hours, while normal black & white film processing time is about eight minutes. The resulting images remain, for me, both painterly and realistic.
Alan Cohen grew up in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. After earning a degree in nuclear engineering at North Carolina State University and beginning a doctoral program in thermodynamics at Northwestern University, he began photographing and eventually left the sciences to study photography. As a graduate student at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design, he studied with Aaron Siskind, Arthur Siegel, Garry Winogrand, Charles Swedlund, Ken Josephson, and Joe Jachna. He was awarded a M.Sc. Photography degree in 1972.