Interview: Roeg Cohen

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Looking through the photographs of Roeg Cohen early one morning I came to the realisation that his pictures evoke a very real feeling of emotion. They draw you in and spit you out, leaving the observer wistfully mystified, to simply resonate with their feelings and as Cohen says “to wonder”.

For those that may be unfamiliar with his work, Roeg Cohen is a Canadian-born photographer based in New York. Best known for his beautifully haunting photography, his subjects are primarily women but in recent years he has perhaps become more known for his equine photography. He has taken hundreds of photographs of horses, capturing their raw, untouched beauty. In his series ‘Diptychs‘ Cohen personifies, observes and captures parallels that go beyond those obvious to the average eye.

Finding simplicity in light and shade, his versatility allows him to create something different with each subject that appears before his lens. I was fortunate to be able to speak with Roeg for Local Suicide to gain a little more insight into what’s behind his photography…

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LSD: Where did you grow up and how has that shaped or influenced your work (or not) today?

RC: I grew up in Toronto, Canada. I didn’t start taking pictures until a few years after I moved to the US, so I don’t think growing up there had much of a direct influence on my work.

LSD: What’s your earliest significant memory of photography?

RC: It’s funny, because in hindsight there was a lot of photography going on around me when I was a kid. My next door neighbour was a professional photographer, and I would hang out with her in her basement darkroom, and my step Dad was a very serious hobby photographer. He did amazing street photography in the 70’s. But I never took any notice of it as something I wanted to do.

My Father died when I was a baby, and I have no memory of him. Nor are there any photographs of us together. The same picture of him hung on the wall of my house, and my Grandmother’s house. It was taken a few months before he died. His bearded face was sunlit, and in profile. A dark shadow was around him. He looked like Jesus with a dark halo. There was absolute reverence in my family for this image. When I started taking pictures, I thought a lot about that image, and it’s meaning. About the fact that because there was no images of him and I together, and I had no memories of him, that I had trouble connecting with him as something other then just that image on the wall. That has really informed my work in regards to memory and meaning.

LSD: What track(s) would play as the soundtrack to your photography?

RC: ‘The Big Ship’ by Brian Eno.

LSD: What do you want people to feel when they look at your work?

RC: Something.

LSD: What role do you think photography plays in society today?

RC: It’s a record. Your average person used to be able to sum up their lives in a few photo albums. It was a facsimile of what a life had been. Now it’s a curation of life in real time. It’s the end of memory.

LSD: Who or what would you consider your role models/inspiration to be?

RC: I don’t really have any role models. I’ve learned a lot from other people, but I’ve never had a mentor. For better or worse, I’m driven by, and I suppose inspired by my mercurial moods.

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LSD: Do you prefer to shoot off the cuff i.e. unplanned, or to work with a more specific idea/goal in mind?

RC: I don’t use concepts. The person I’m shooting is always the idea for me, and I focus on that.

LSD: If you had to choose one of your photographs to date to represent you, which would you choose and why?

RC: I’m going to cheat and pick two. The first picture I took of a horse 10 years ago. I have a big print of it over my desk. I look at it everyday and wonder. The other is a picture I took of a girl sitting in the back seat of a van I was driving. We were parked and I shot her reflection in the rear view mirror. She has sad eyes in the picture. A few years later I read in the paper that she had committed suicide. The picture feels prescient. I’m very interested in how the context of a picture can change over time depending on what’s happened to the subjects in them. While writing this I looked up both images, and in a way they feel like the same picture.

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What does the rest of  the year have in store for you?

Working more on physical work…prints and a book.

Roeg Cohen website / instagram

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