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31 May 2023

I chase the light – Interview with Manuel Cohen, photographer

Scala is thrilled to represent and offer worldwide the images from the archives of Manuel Cohen. Manuel is a French professional photographer specializing in photographing works of art, monuments and cultural sites. In this exclusive interview...

Scala is thrilled to represent and offer worldwide the images from the archives of Manuel Cohen. Manuel is a French professional photographer specializing in photographing works of art, monuments and cultural sites. In this exclusive interview, he guides us through his profession, which at times is questioned because of the rise of new technologies, but which, in reality, is profoundly rooted in technique combined with the careful uses of sophisticated tools coupled by a careful study and analysis of reality and its even subtle nuances. The resulting archive is a unique and carefully crafted series of reportage photography from innumerable worldwide locations.

Why choose photography as a job?

My father Robert Cohen, photographer and founder of the AGIP Agency taught me the basics of photography when I was a child. Since then I never stopped learning. The great thing with photography is that we always have the possibility to evolve, consequently we never stop improving!

On top of that, I have always been passionate about travel and captivated by history and the civilizations of all eras.

Therefore my combined passions allow me to capture and share what I see while I discover and explore.

I like to interpret reality with total freedom of choice on the angle, the light, the frame, the scene, and the settings. This is how I make an image. The infinite space between reality and its interpretation is a complex art, a constant challenge.

What values does your archive have, and what distinguishes photos from smartphones from professional photos?

The professional camera is a tool that brings together many elements and gives a very high level of performance. It is an eye giving countless possibilities of combinations, which we will regulate and adjust to make an image. The images made can be close to reality (technical photo – even if it still represents a form of interpretation) or it can represent an abstraction that brings out the reflection of an interpreted reality (artistic photo).

Regarding photographing works of art, a panoply of lights and flashes are used to illuminate the object, get rid of reflection, accentuate relief; it is kind of how we illuminate a movie scene. I work with the best medium format digital cameras. None of it is comparable to smartphones.

I see a smartphone as a recording box, a snapshot, where the machine does almost all the work of adjustments and therefore there is much less margin for the actual creation of an image. A smartphone is marked by a series of electronic filters and relatively succinct settings. Not to mention the quality, you cannot compare a professional medium format camera with the image quality of the smartphone, even if it is the best smartphone in the world.  Consequently it is complicated to progress if one is equipped only with a smartphone.

There cannot be a comparison between a photo taken with a professional camera and a photo taken with a smartphone. They are different tools and I think the uses are not the same.

 My archives are composed of 50,000 highly edited and relatively unique photos. There are many images of archaeological sites, architecture, cultural heritage, works of art and also portraits. I am always trying to create different images even if the site or the monument has already been photographed millions of times.

I examine sites very attentively so as to photograph them when the natural light highlights them the most. It is a work that requires observation that can take several days, but gives the opportunity to capture a unique instant that can only last a few seconds. I chase the light.

Furthermore, I also take advantage of the opportunities related to my job which allow me to have access to places that are not accessible, or hardly accessible, to the public. Through all of these steps, I believe I have gathered a majority of relatively unique photos that stand out from the millions of online content available. I am often told that people recognize my images, which is certainly due to the way I photograph them as well as their quality. What I mean is that each photographer has a signature resulting from their choice of angle and light, to the settings on the camera, which converge to bring to life an image interpreted by the mind.

An archive is like a pyramid, first we build the base to try to reach the top, I am certainly half way up this pyramid and it probably takes more than a lifetime to reach its top, the main thing is to continue to build while always trying to push the limits of its requirements.

Choose 1 or more images, among those you have authorized SCALA to distribute, which represent your work. Do you want to tell us something about each image? 

Photos must convey an emotion, they must speak for themselves…

Check out a selection of photo shoots by Manuel Cohen which are managed by Scala. Contact us for information on licenses and for any specific searches.


Main image: Ak-Sarai Mausoleum, photo by Manuel Cohen