David Cohen has graced the Forest Hills Connection with his photographs of area birds and wildlife. Two of his photographs (artists are limited to two works each) were chosen for the 46th Annual Labor Day Art Show at Glen Echo, which begins with a public reception at the Spanish Ballroom on Friday, September 2nd from 7:30 to 9 p.m.
The exhibition and sale continue that Saturday through Monday, September 3rd through 5th, from 12 noon to 6 pm each day. They mark Cohen’s art show debut (though he says he’s hazy about elementary school). Forest Hills Connection took the occasion to ask Cohen about his photography.
FHC: David, you retired from your day job in 2014. Is that when you picked up the camera?
David Cohen: Though I focused – excuse the expression – on photography as a part of preparing for retirement, it was in my life from childhood. After snapshots and Polaroid prints, I took a high school course I still remember. With the birth of our oldest child – she’s now 31 – I borrowed a Nikon F2. Six months later, its owner gently requested it back. I decided to buy my own. The photographic quality was hard to give up.
FHC: You mentioned photography as a part of preparing for retirement.
DC: Yes, I went through several thousand images I’d taken since I went digital in 2006. Almost all my favorites were portraits. I decided I should learn something about how to do them. I took two courses in studio portraiture with a wonderful teacher and experienced pro, Marty Kaplan, who teaches in the Smithsonian Resident Associates program. He introduced me to a vocabulary and techniques that changed how I see faces – not just in photographs, but in all images.
Three months after I retired, I set up a home portrait studio and launched my website, DavidCohenPhotoDC.com. Two years later, my photos have served as the casting headshot for a Broadway actor, and appeared in books, holiday cards, Facebook, LinkedIn and eHarmony. Most important, they’ve been in Forest Hills Connection!
FHC: What attracted you to the camera?
DC: A good photo has magic to it. It helps me hone my vision, retain a moment, capture a syncopation, find incongruity, humor, or beauty, show other people something they hadn’t seen… What’s not to like?
Then there’s what psychologists call “partial reinforcement,” the lure of never knowing whether the image you think you see will come through in the photo. When a photo captures what caught your eye, it’s exciting. Sometimes it’s even more exciting to find something you didn’t see!
FHC: Why nature? You seem to focus on birds. What is the attraction?
DC: A photographer named Jim Richardson, who’s done a lot for National Geographic, says, “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of better stuff.” My first trip after retirement was to Sanibel Island, Florida, home to one of our great nature preserves, the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Walking four to eight miles a day with my camera for five days, I took more than 3,000 photos. That trip, plus travels to Australia and Hawaii, got me to look around our neighborhood!
When I’m doing wildlife photography, I go into a different zone. Partial reinforcement reigns! Wild birds and other animals don’t pose, don’t position themselves in the best light, don’t want you too close… So I’ve started learning their patterns – and that, plus luck, makes photographing birds irresistible. You simply never know what you’ll find or learn.
Permit me to include Exhibit A:
I came downstairs to go to the park, with my camera in hand, and found Exhibit A waiting for me on our back deck.
FHC: What advice do you have for others who are interested in picking up a camera?
DC: Go for it! Play hard, and learn a lot! Don’t just settle for your smart phone. Get a camera, switch off its auto features, and experiment with the basics: aperture, light sensitivity (ISO), and shutter speed. Look at the work of great artists, and of great photographers: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Weston, Yousuf Karsh… Figure out what attracts your eye, and test your sense of a good photo against the reactions of others.
Just beware of gizmo lust! Lots of men – and I specify “men” – find just one more gadget, lens, or camera body irresistible. I plead guilty, though I try to restrain myself. I’d rather learn how to push what I have. The possibilities are endless!
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Paintings, jewelry, sculpture, photography, fiber art, and more: The 46th Annual Labor Day Art Show at Glen Echo Park features selected work in diverse media by more than 200 artists. The exhibit and sale open with a public reception from 7:30 to 9 pm on Friday, Sept. 2, in the Spanish Ballroom, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd, Glen Echo MD 20812. It continues from 12 noon to 6 pm on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, Sept. 3 through 5. For more information, check glenechopark.org/labor-day-art-show-2016.
Neighbor and photographer David Cohen makes his exhibit debut at the Glen Echo Park’s 46th annual Labor Day Art Show!