Portraits of an artist

Mark Cohen’s approach to photography is evident on the faces of his subjects. The surprised reactions or offhand gestures captured in his stark, confrontational images are the direct result of his spontaneous methods. But the black-and-white images, 68 of which comprise the Art Museum’s new show “Mark Cohen: Strange Evidence,” also reveal something of the man behind the camera.

“This show is sort of a Rorschach of my imagination of the world,” Cohen admits.

Cohen ran a small photo studio in Wilkes-Barre when he began the street photography that has occupied him for the past 40 years, inspired by the likes of Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Henri Cartier-Bresson, along with visual artists from other realms. “I knew who Cartier-Bresson was and I knew who Picasso was — and I just sort of fell into it,” he recalls. “It just seemed natural to me. I was living in this little city and I had a camera, so I could just walk right out of the house and start to make pictures of things that I saw on the street.”

It’s often the objects in his viewfinder rather than the human subjects that catch Cohen’s eye. While his aggressive portraiture of faces make up a significant part of the exhibit, heads are just as often shoved out of frame by a hand or an alligator purse. “Certain things become interesting to me, and that’s part of a whole psychological makeup that I have that carries with it all of the art history that’s packed into my head,” Cohen says. “As I go along, I fit into my little space in that spectrum.”