Mark Cohen, Pennsylvania, 1977
There’s a good, tight survey of Cohen’s work currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Cohen best known work are black and white photographs in the vein of William Klein and Winogrand, but his color images are an important part of the story (and there is a book just for the color). Shot during the same period as Eggleston’s more famous color, Cohen’s landscape is the streets of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
While there are connections between the Pennsylvania rust belt and Eggleston’s decaying South, Cohen’s photographs are all action, whereas Eggleston’s are still life, including and especially the portraits. (Think of the “Guide”-era shots of the woman on the foral seat, or the two men.)
In Scranton there are far less people and a lower pulse, but Cohen has a technique to reach Klein-levels of energy. He uses the off-camera, hand-held flash technique in a similar manner as Bruce Gilden. The technique is: Approach a person on the street with a Leica (or other manual focus camera) and wide-angle lens, pre-focused at a set distance. f11. Get in close enough to smell the person’s aftershave, compose loosely, flash held to one side, shoot. You have a brief half-second to walk away as they recoil in shock. See it in these videos.
While the above photograph could be the kids in Klein’s Rome or New York, Cohen’s technique gets even closer in the other shots, so that you can only see a part of the body. With no face in the frame, you are left with the colors and textures of that era’s clothing, and the high energy action turns into abstraction. The jacket of an old lady turning away from Cohen could be the wallpaper in one of Eggleston’s interiors.