Identity: A Photographic Meditation From The Inside Out

Stewart Cohen


Photographs by Stewart Cohen
Dream Editions Press, 2010
Color Photography Throughout
112 pp., 10.5x14.5”, Hardbound

Stewart Cohen’s Identity is a pictorial essay on character, and a labor of love he began in 1999. Over the next decade, he sought out and encountered individuals from various walks of life whose personalities interested him. These portraits, combined with each subject’s own commentary on what makes them tick, resulted in this collection of riveting images and words that reveal or, in some cases, conceal inner lives.

When he learned there’s an actual girl from Ipanema who inspired the 60s bossa nova hit and who’s still there, tall and tan and eternally lovely, he had to meet her. And while in Rio, Stewart pursued legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who’s still working and creating today.

His own love of rock and blues pointed him to legends like John Lee Hooker, B.B. King and Edgar Winter, and newer faces like Theo Kogan and Bob Schneider. There were the delightfully serendipitous discoveries like the identically white-gloved, cigarette-puffing Gallo Twins he met at a Twins Day Festival; and maverick artist Campbell “Camp” Bosworth of Marfa, Texas. Offbeat characters like the Lizard Man and Lucky fed Stewart’s curiosity and offered insight to their nonconformist lifestyles. He also embraced the rare opportunity the book afforded to glimpse behind the curtain at the Prince of Monaco and such societal icons as Peter Beard, Stephen Hawking and Jane Goodall.

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Awards & Recognition

Gold and Silver Winner of the Dallas Society of Visual Communications 2010 Design Show

Photo District News Photography Annual 2010

Platinum Award for Book Design, Creativity International Awards 2010

Customer Reviews

Intriquing Glimpses of Fascinating People
By John Lund

Stewart's book offers compelling glimpses of some extraordinary people. Each portrait is accompanied by a personal note that makes each one all the more fascinating. Some of the subjects are familiar to me, some not, but all have left an enduring impression. I was left wanting more...when is the sequel coming out?

Stewart Captures the Human Identity
By D. Weston Willaims

I have been fortunate to have been exposed to Stewart's work over the years but have not really had the opportunity to spend the time to watch him build a message through a series of images. Luckily, Stewart has done this for all of us in Identity. Stewart has collected in this book a series of pictures of people that span the wide range of the human identity. Each subject is unique - some were born that way and some worked hard to be that way. Look closely at the images, visualize the person, read what they say makes them who they are . . . now step back, breathe, and relate. Stewart reminds us that we all have an individual identity that makes up this collective thing we call humanity. As a side note, I have decided that Neil Young's Greatest Hits make a perfect companion to flipping through and studying Identity.

The One for All
By Irving Freeman

Stewart Cohen's "Identity" bills itself as a "photographic meditation" and I am sure it impresses all the hoity-toity, fru-fru, artistic types. Its reach, however, is much broader, and encompasses even lowbrows such as myself, the kind of people who would rather go to a movie than to a "film". It is filled with insightful photographs of an amazingly diverse group of interesting people, some pretty bizarre, supplemented with brief writings by the subjects. One doesn't have to appreciate or be interested in art to enjoy "Identity", one only needs to be interested in people. I'd like to meet some of the folks in Cohen's book and I'm anxious to avoid some of the others. I am happy that Cohen has met them all and captured them for this book.

Stunning Collection of Humanity
By William Porch

This distinctive book by Stewart Cohen is a work of art, and a tribute, not just to the people included, but to the absolute uniqueness in all of us. It strikes directly to the heart and soul of the human condition -- what it means to be fully alive, with all of its seriousness and success, trials and triumphs, and thankfully, joy and eccentricities.The images themselves are beautiful, not because the person might fit our mold of what that means, but because they're full of truth. The thread that runs through this compassionate collection is the brilliance of the connection -- each subject is profoundly in his or her own moment, even with the camera's presence. And who they are becomes more evident when augmented with their own words, written in their own hand -- each a work of art in its own right. A pleasure to hold and beautifully shot, this book is a treasure for anyone's table or library.

Book Review: Identity
By FC Etier

“What makes you unique as in individual?” was the question posed by Stewart Cohen to each of his subjects. Each subject was asked to write out their answer to that question with a one page limit. Cohen: “I hope these pictures and the subjects’ own commentaries provoke thought and sharpen the eye for the stories in their faces.”

A very shallow depth of field draws the viewers’ attention to features of each subject that provoke questions and smiles. Cohen helps us see the stories written in the lines of experience, expressions of joy, and pride of achievement of each of his subjects, chosen over the ten years of this project. Clever yet thoughtful cropping by the artist draws our attention to the features of the subjects that demand our attention, our empathy and our understanding. We connect with this diverse sampling of humanity in a way not possible in person. Some of the written responses by the chosen 50 fill their allotted space of one page and others need only a word or two. Often we learn more by what is not written just as we see more of the character of the people by imagining what was cropped out of the image.

At least five of the portraits were cropped so that a significant portion of the face was not visible. The first two images presented contrast a Texas entrepreneur with an Oklahoma banker. An extreme closeup of an 80 year old man vs. a much younger art collector provides a memorable character study comparing experience and vanity.

Which is more feminine — the female impersonator or the Russian ballerina? Who is more dangerous — the gentle man who is obsessed with the darkest corners of human nature (Dominick Dunne) or “Sonny” Barger of the notorious Oakland chapter of Hell’s Angels? Would you rather have your portrait painted with the words of Amy Tan or the music of Bobby McFerrin? If Mr. Cohen took your photo, what would he crop out — and what would you write on your one page? Stewart Cohen’s Identity, A Photographic Meditation From The Inside Out, forces the reader to study the person they see in the mirror as much as the ones on his pages. If he can help us identify ourselves, what more could we ask from a photographer?