Portrait: Stephen Cohen, Founder of Photo la


Photo l.a.? A wonderful accident”

or the Portrait of an art fair maker, Stephen Cohen


Stephen Cohen
is the Founder, Producer and Director of photo l.a. 2011, including artLA, photo san francisco, photo MIAMI, photo santa fe, photo NY and the first vernacular photography fair in NYC.



This is with the simplicity and wonder of a child that Stephen Cohen characterizes the success of twenty years as Founder, Producer and Director of Photo l.a.  When asked what prompted him to start and what enthusiasm as to continue, he replied « …creating was always a part of who I am.  ….. Suffice it to say that making something happen that wasn’t there before is something I get a kick out of.  That I was able to make what started out as a very small event to find collectors in Los Angeles, into a career was a wonderful accident.  That this career could expand the wonders of art and art appreciation to an ever expanding audience was unexpected.

Actually it was necessary to be a visionary in 1992, in creating an art fair that could support a single medium, photography, which at that time had not fully acquired the status of art. From the beginning he was convinced of the artistic aspect of photography and the status of artist for a photographer, he says « Some elitists may cringe at artists being called “photographers”, but to me, it’s another non-issue.  No one denigrates an artist by referring to them as a “painter”.  Perhaps there are those who still are stuck on the mechanics of how the equipment works, but it’s not the machine that makes the picture, it’s the eye, the heart and the mind of the artist that does it.»

Since his beginnings, Stephen Cohen found the right pattern and he determined a main objective to the art fair that would create its success and give a soul to it.

Main objective is to initiate, Stephen Cohen prefers the term “educate” the audience, because, he says: « …. Because of this over-saturation of imagery we encounter, it’s more important than ever to be educated in looking at pictures — really looking at images with an educated and experienced eye that comes from looking at the work of past and current masters of photography.  Visiting galleries, museums and art fairs — photo l.a, photo NY and artLA, for example — are the best way to train your eye to be able to separate the good from the great and to better appreciate what a visual artist is trying to convey. »

Moreover, as an eye need some education, Stephen Cohen has established from the beginning, a pattern based on a program of lectures and seminars where photographers, curators and conservators could transmit their knowledge and views « Programming has been a major part of most every fair I’ve produced.  It would seem strange to me not to have a collecting walk-through or lecture as part of the event.» he says.

Among the photographers hosted (alpha sorted) Jonathan Anderson, Harry Benson, Andrea Bowers, David La Chapelle, Bruce Davidson, John Divola, James Fee, Larry Fink, Judy Fiskin, Debbie Fleming Caffery, Charles Gaines, Sally Gall, Lynn Geesaman, Jim Goldberg, , Ken Gonzales-Day, Lauren Greenfield, Manfred Heiting, Todd Hido, Graciela Iturbide, Mona Kuhn, Leonard Limoy, Edwin Low, Gerd Ludwig, Susan Meiselas, Richard Misrach, Steve McCurry, , Leland Rice, Connie Samaras, Karen Sinsheimer, Alec Soth, Jock Sturges, Beth Gates Warren, Robert Weingarten, James Welling, Wim Wenders, Charles White, Michael Wilson, Joel Peter-Witkin Mark Wyse, until this year when William Eggleston et Stephen Shore are the honorary guest hosts.

As evidenced by these few names, Stephen Cohen is always open to novelty, but he is also a great loyal. When asked about the exhibitions and artists he liked the most in 2010, he prefers to answer « I love seeing the work of some of my favorite photographers even if I know the work well and I love finding something new to me»

A Passion for the medium, admiration and loyalty to artists, want to share it with the greatest number, it is undeniably the ingredients that make the success of photo l.a. since Twenty years now.

Let’s wish to Stephen Cohen to make happy new discoveries and that the public come many. Despite the great organization of this year there is one ingredient no one can control which is the weather: “all I hope for is that we have a large turnout of interested people who will enjoy themselves, that many of them will purchase work (since that’s why the dealers come here) and that the moon is shining just right — and the weather is just the right mix of being nice but not too nice so that people won’t want to come indoors.” says Stephen Cohen.

So, let’s hope for a good but not too good weather, and let’s wish a Happy Twentieth Anniversary to Stephen Cohen and his team.

Beatrice Chassepot
Los Angeles, January the 1st, 2011