Lynne Cohen

Apartment Lobby, Ottawa

1978

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Lynne Cohen 1944–2014
Medium
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Dimensions
Image: 193 x 244 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2012
Reference
P80092

Summary

This work is part of a group of ten small black and white photographs (Tate P80088P80097) from Lynne Cohen’s series Occupied Territory, which she worked on between 1973 and c.1989. The images depict the interiors of spaces such as sports clubs, classrooms, offices, libraries and community halls, documenting them in a systematic and neutral way. These scenes are devoid of people, focusing instead on the furniture, lighting and objects in each space. The titles of the works refer to generic categories which describe the types of places where the images were produced, rather than giving specific locations and dates. Many of these works are vintage prints.

Cohen was born in Wisconsin in 1944 and lived and worked in Canada for much of her career. Influenced by minimalism, conceptual art and pop art, she started working with photography in 1971 and from then began systematically photographing interior spaces with a deliberately banal or ‘straight’ perspective. Her early works, like the Occupied Territory photographs, focus on the interior environments of western industrialised countries. Each space implies a social function but paradoxically is devoid of people. Photographed in this objective way, these interiors appear mute and dehumanised yet at the same time eerily evocative of a human presence.

This sense of unstated possibility characterises Cohen’s images, which she described as being ‘like picture windows you can fall into’ (Cohen in William A. Ewing, Vincent Lavoie, Lori Pauli and Ann Thomas, ‘Camouflage: An Interview with Lynne Cohen’, February 2001, published on the artist’s website, www.lynne-cohen.com/docs/camouflage.doc, accessed 24 July 2018). These photographs are not only studies of man-made environments and architecture but also a study of history and culture, drawing attention to the interior environments where people pass most of their time, whether working, relaxing, training or socialising. These man-made interiors can be seen in relation to the man-altered landscapes of New Topographics photographers such as Lewis Baltz (1945–2014) and Stephen Shore (born 1947) who, like Cohen, worked in a style that exploited systematic anonymity.

Further reading
Lynne Cohen, Occupied Territory, New York 1987.
Jian Too, Lynne Cohen: Cover, Paris 2009.

Shoair Mavlian
September 2011, revised July 2018

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