Jeff Cowen - ''30 works'' Curated by: Eric Schlosser
Jeff Cowen Bio
Jeff Cowen (b. 1966) grew up on New York’s Upper West Side and graduated in Oriental Studies from New York University
and Waseda University Tokyo. He moved in the late 1980’s to the Meatpacking District in New
York City and earned his living as a Taxi Cab Driver. His first series ‘West 14th Street’, in which he photographed the district’s transvestite scene, was bought by the New York Historical Society for its permanent collection. In the following years, he worked as assistant to Larry Clark and Ralph Gibson, a time he used in order to familiarize himself with various darkroom techniques. In the 1990’s he studied academic drawing and painting at the Art Students League and the New York Studio School. Following the attacks of 11, September 2001 he moved to Paris. In 2007 he relocated his studio to the Kreuzberg district of Berlin.
Jeff Cowen uses only analogue photography in a variety of formats from 35mm to 8 x 10. All the prints are made in his customised darkroom. His study of painting and life drawing, has had a great impact on his concept of photography.The analogue image taken by the camera is not the final product, but marks only the starting point of the artistic reflection of the motif. His chief concern is not a return to the photographic past, but rather to explore and expand the limits of the medium from a present-day perspective. He is interested in mating the power of photography with the power of painting and creating a new evolution in the photographic medium. Cowen’s unique images are created by using different chemicals and other mediums and hand work. He is equally concerned with the photographic image, the individual motif – be it landscape, portrait, still life, abstraction or sculpture – as he is with the intervention in the final print making in his photographic lab. He is interested in the question of how the sensory experience of three-dimensional plasticity can be reproduced in the two-dimensionality of the photographic print. The process is in part consciously controlled, but not comprehensively laid down in advance. Cowen is searching for something that he does not rationally understand, but which he feels and knows exists.
In some cases Cowen totally omits the photography and works on the surface of the negative directly with chemicals, and a variety of instruments, which leads to an abstract painterly image. The lines between photography and painting blur into one entity. Even in cases when we recognise the classical motifs of art history, the singular genres and individual subjects are rendered to a profound essence.
Works by Jeff Cowen often seem to exist outside the time-space continuum. There is no event which can be related to a certain time period. Instead, the works unfold an auratic impression, which can only be articulated solely by and within the image itself. Jeff Cowen puts it: "I use photography as a language in order to communicate the unspeakable and the spiritual.”
Jeff Cowen has been represented by Michael Werner Kunsthandel in Germany since 2012. His works are in numerous public and private collections. In 2016 and 2017 he had his first comprehensive Museum surveys at the Ludwig Museum Koblenz and the Huis Marseille Museum for Photography in Amsterdam.