words Alexa Wang
More often than not our family snaps are slightly awkward and posed affairs as we dutifully stand still for the obligatory shot. They used to be kept in an old box for those occasions when we got them out and used them to bring back memories. Nowadays of course we pore over images of loved ones on our smartphones and laugh at the poses and scenarios as we do.
‘Things Aren’t Always as Mother Reports’ is a series of colour portraits and landscapes by Paul Cohen shot in documentary style with his own sons as the main focus. The warmth and connection between the dad and his sons shine out from the photographs. They are deeply personal – you almost feel like a fly on the wall looking in but they also make us think about our own families and our own connections. In some of the images the boys seem in the moment as they play with each other, in others they look lost in thought. So, as close and personal as these images are they lead us to think. As close as we get, we are still outsiders from those innermost thoughts.
Keen to observe how the place and time in which they live affect them Cohen pays close attention to how they navigate their world and where they sit within it. These pictures provide a glimpse into the boys. They also communicate the concerns of the photographer. Though nothing is explicit or explained, there is vulnerability here; happiness is always on the edge of being lost.
The cumulative effect of these pictures transcends a father’s deeply personal experience to communicate something more universal about boys growing up in the UK today.
Paul Cohen is a London based photographer. His portraits and landscapes are in the documentary style. He gained his MFA in fine art photography, documentary practice and the photo-based book from Hartford University in Connecticut USA.
Val Williams is a curator and author who is a recognised authority on British photography. She is Professor of the History and Culture of Photography at the London College of Communication and has curated exhibitions for the Barbican Art Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Media Museum, Tate Britain and the British Council.
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