Allen Ginsberg, 1959


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”
—John Cohen, from There Is No Eye


There Is No Eye: John Cohen Photographs

December 2001
powerHouse Books

Cohen's first monograph; 200 pages, 127 duotone and 39 four-color photographs; introduction by Greil Marcus. [more]



John Cohen has been making photographs since 1954. His photographic outlook was formed before there were photography galleries. At that time the only work for a photographer was in photo journalism or in advertising, and neither was what he wanted to do. Instead he made his own personal photographs, as well as documenting things which were important to him: mostly the artists and musicians. His photographic inquiries lead him to the Andes and to Appalachia, where he photographed traditional musicians in their own home settings. His photographs found use on record covers, and served as preliminary trial runs for his later film projects.

Cohen's early Peru work was recognized in a one-person show at the Limelight Gallery (1957) which was then the only photo gallery in New York. His early images are valued as vintage prints, and have been shown widely. In recent years his photographs have been acquired by museums and private collectors. His photographs of traditional musicians, the Beat Generation poets, and his portraits of Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters and others have been seen increasingly in films and television productions.

In 1997, he shared a photographic exhibition "Keeping Time: Photographs of Musicians" at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. His photographs have been displayed in at the Brooklyn Museum, The Photo Eye Gallery in Santa Fe, NM, and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

He started the photography program at Purchase College SUNY in 1972, served as area head, and hired faculty including Jed Devine, Jan Groover, and others. He taught photography classes for twenty-five years, and then retired from academia so he could devote more time to "practice what he preached."

In 2000, fifteen of his Peru photographs were on display at the Open Society Institute in NYC, and in 2001 his work was represented in the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition "Ten Years of Collecting: Recent Acquisitions." In January, 2002 a large show of his photographs from There Is No Eye will open at the Photographic Resource Center in Boston, and travel to other venues. Another exhibition of his work will be presented at the Thomas Zander gallery in Cologne, Germany in early 2002.

In January 2002, a large show of his photographs from "There Is No Eye" opened at the Photographic Resource Center in Boston, and traveled to eleven museum venues nationwide. Other exhibitions of his work were presented at the Thomas Zander gallery in Cologne, Germany, Stephan Daiter Gallery, Chicago 2003, Phototroph Gallery, Colorado Springs , Croton Free Library, NY, Deborah Bell Gallery, NYC, IceBox gallery, Minneapolis, Woody Guthrie Center, OK, L. Parker Stephenson Gallery, NYC