Monday, January 24, 2011

John Cohen


For more than half a century, John Cohen has been taking photographs, making films, recording rural musicians and creating his own music. He's a co-founder of The New Lost City Ramblers, a string band that set the standard for authenticity in the 1950s' "folk boom," and at the age of 78, Cohen is still at it.

Between visits to Kentucky and Peru, Cohen lived in a downtown New York City apartment, next door to photographer Robert Frank. When Frank shot the iconic beat film, Pull My Daisy, Cohen took the still photographs. When young Bob Dylan came to Greenwich Village, Cohen took photos of him, too, on the roof of the building. There's a famous shot of Woody Guthrie, curly hair sprouting from the top of his narrow head, framed by the hulking backs of two acoustic guitarists. That picture was the image used for a show of Cohen's still photos, films and music at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., in 1997.

"One of the things you can really see from John Cohen is that you don't have to pigeonhole yourself," Rankin says. "You can follow that naive passion of interest, be a participant and be an observer."

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