Charles Cohen’s work strikes intrigue on many levels, if you created a a Venn diagram of some of the widely wrote about theories in photography history, you would find this work at the centre. Charles’ work touches on theories of the male gaze, abstraction, absence and authorship.
Charles’ body of work ‘Buff’ has a strong undertone theme of absence. The idea of ‘absence’ and ‘presence’ are fundamental states of being. They are states of being, in reference to a place, to occupy it. When this relates to photography, the concept of ‘absence’ is in relation to the past, photography is about the past. The ‘absence’ is clearly articulated by his use of the ever present, negative space
“What we no longer have is complicated by the way we remember it. A pervasive sense of longing underscores a link between the present and what is lost, what is missing, as well as, perhaps, what is regrettable. We are surrounded by absence. One only needs to alter perception slightly to see how present it is.”
It is clear to see the original intention of the image is pornographic but the abstraction elevates it into the realms of fine art. Charles’ clever choices of visual language you find yourself appreciating the images in an entirely different way to the original intention. “The color palette, the interaction of light and shadow, negative space, and references to art history contribute to an unexpected beauty”
In 1972 John Berger famously wrote about the male gaze, “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at”. Berger implies that women are aware of the male spectator. Typically, this theory applies to post renascence art, but the theory of the male gaze transcends art. Pornography is an entire industry devoted to the pleasures of the male. In Charles’ work, the male gaze is denied and forced to appreciate aspects of the images not normally the focus of attention.
“Abstraction does not only occur when we cannot identify elements of a piece. To the contrary, when any given program, image, or object is reduced to its separate components, and one is removed or emphasised over another, the interruption that ensues is the wedge that allows us to find intellectual pleasure and beauty where we do not expect it.”
Another interesting aspect of this work is how it touches upon the nature ‘art’ and the authorship of work, by using found images and reappropriating them, a common tool in fine art.
In the late 60’s the Artist John Baldessari and his friend took photos of themselves pointing at things during a walk through town. Later he commissioned paintings of these photographs from various painters and exhibited under his own name. His argument was something similar to the argument a composer or impresario would have when they provide a script or score to an orchestra to play. Implying the concept is of higher importance than the performance.
Baldessari’s work was echoing the work started by the modern art movement, using found objects / images and giving them a new breath of life. Charles’ work is an nod to this idea of authorship, having not created the original images Charles transforms them far beyond their original intention and gives them a new place amongst art.
However you look at Charles’ work, you find yourself questioning many things. He has struck a chord in so many art history theories that you cant help but be drawn into deep thought.
This is just one body of work from Charles Cohen, he has a vast selection of work on his site you can check out, including another series of work using similar visual devices used in ‘Buff’ Click on the link if you would like to continue thinking