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there is no eye: Photographs by John Cohen

February 15 - April 8, 2006


Silver Eye Center for Photography is presenting there is no eye: Photographs by John Cohen on view February 15 - April 8, 2006. This exhibition features a collection of more than 100 black and white evocative documentary images by photographer, filmmaker, and musician, John Cohen. Cohen's passion for art and music ranges from the painting, film, and early rock and roll of the beat generation, to bluegrass and folk music in Appalachia, to the music and textiles of the Peruvian mountains. Images include portraits of Bob Dylan, Robert Frank, Allen Ginsberg, Woody Guthrie, Roscoe Holcomb, Jack Kerouac and Franz Kline among many other visionaries of the 1950s and 1960s. there is no eye: Photographs by John Cohen is organized and circulated by the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University, in cooperation with John P. Jacob, independent curator. (right: John Cohen, Bob Dylan on my rooftop, Third Avenue, New York City, 1962, gelatin silver print, 12 3/8 x 8 1/8 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Deborah Bell Photographs, New York City.  © John Cohen.)

John Cohen, the musician and photographer who purportedly provided inspiration for the Grateful Dead song "Uncle John's Band" and was a co-founder of the string band the New Lost City Ramblers in 1958. The New Lost City Ramblers have received several Grammy nomination and Cohen's award-winning films have been screened around the world. Cohen was a regular writer for Sing Out Magazine and was central to the emergence of the urban folk revival of the 1960s. The title of the exhibition, "there is no eye" was drawn from the liner notes for Bob Dylan's seminal album, Highway 61 Revisited (1965). John Cohen is a renaissance man, whose work overlaps many disciplines including music, photography, literature and film.

John Cohen was born in Queens in 1932 and now works and lives in Putnam Valley, New York. He started the photography program at SUNY Purchase and was a professor of Visual Arts from 1972 - 1997. Cohen came to photography after studying at Yale University with painters Josef Albers and Herbert Matter. Cohen explains in There is no Eye, "One early idea I had was to be a painter, but between the prospect of a life in front of an easel or photographing out in the world, photography won out. Photography could become personal, subjective, and documentary. The lens became the center of an equation with the visible world on one side and the interior world on the other." Cohen then moved to New York where he mixed with a burgeoning art world, including many Abstract Expressionist painters and Beat poets. Cohen photographed the productions of Robert Frank's films Pull my Daisy and Sin of Jesus, as well as several "happenings." Cohen was inspired to make his first photographic series while assisting Matter with a film on the roots of jazz in Black gospel. John Cohen explains, "Photographs were like poetry to me, triggering ideas, stimulating images in the mind. Images that were too active to sit on a wall." (left: John Cohen, Jack Kerouac listening to himself on the radio, 1959, gelatin silver print, 8 5/8 x 12 7/8 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Deborah Bell Photographs, New York City. © John Cohen.)

With the New Lost City Ramblers, Cohen attempted to recapture the authentic old time Appalachian music of the 1920s and 1930s, which influenced such musicians as Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia. Cohen's band appeared several times at the legendary Newport Folk Festival and was instrumental in documenting and reviving traditional music. It was he who coined the phrase "high lonesome sound" in reference to this genre; his film of the same name is legendary.

there is no eye: Photographs by John Cohen encapsulates all areas of Cohen's multifaceted work: New York City of the 1950s, the Beat Generation, American traditional music as well as his travels in Peru and the American South. The sensitive and moving portraits provide a virtual lesson in American cultural history: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Franz Kline, Red Grooms, Philip Guston, Alan Kaprow, Muddy Waters, Woodie Guthrie, Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, Doc Watson, Roscoe Holcomb as well as an extremely young Bob Dylan.

Cohen's photographs are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, The Museum of Modern Art, NY, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; he is represented by Deborah Bell Photographs, New York, NY. His pictures have been displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, Photographic Resource Center at Boston University, and Photo Eye Gallery in Santa Fe, NM. They have appeared in such prestigious publications as Aperture, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. (right: John Cohen, Woody Guthrie, Cooper Union, 1959, gelatin silver print, 17 13/16 x 11 13/16 inches, Courtesy of the artist and Deborah Bell Photographs, New York City. © John Cohen.)

The exhibition is accompanied by a powerHouse Books monograph, "there is no eye: John Cohen Photographs" with an introduction by arts writer Greil Marcus as well as a Smithsonian Folkways CD, featuring music of those pictured, both of which will be available for purchase.

Martin Scorsese's two-part documentary, American Masters Bob Dylan: No Direction Home that recounts five years in the life of popular singer-songwriter Bob Dylan will be previewed on Saturday afternoons at Silver Eye. Additional programming includes a co-sponsored Musical Conversation with John Cohen at WYEP 91.3 FM's new Community Broadcast Center on the South Side, a book signing with John Cohen at Silver Eye and live music by The Lackawanna Longnecks in collaboration with Calliope. The Opening Reception will take place on Thursday, February 16 at 5:30 p.m.,

The mission of Silver Eye Center for Photography is to serve the public through exposure to a wide range of work by locally, nationally and internationally recognized photographers. A Pittsburgh institution since 1985, Silver Eye Center for Photography is the oldest non-profit organization in Western Pennsylvania dedicated solely to the understanding, appreciation, education, and promotion of photography as an art form and as an expressive form of visual communication. Silver Eye Center for Photography is located at 1015 East Carson Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. Please the Center's website for hours and admission fees.

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