Monday 25 April 2022

Charles Cohen: The Art of Absence

 In this post, I will explore the work of Charles Cohen I have chosen this photographer/digital artist as my own work this term is beginning to use NFTs and investigating how to put photography out in a real-world context. The work of Cohen is interesting as it uses absence and subtraction of the subject as a concept 'which explore[s] representational qualities in the context of abstraction through erasure. Cohen's work, which eradicates the human figure from pornographic scenes, subverts the images' original function and creates a void where absence becomes a presence in its own right' (Paul C. 2008:38)  Presence and absence is an area in which I am particularly interested in photography, as I was discussing previously in my urban landscape shots, there are no people in the shots however there is evidence of people and this trace is throughout the images.  

The work above from Buff (1999-2005) depicts a woman clearly naked but erased facing an image of  (a very young) Leonardo DiCaprio.  The room looks like a teenage girl's bedroom which is slightly disturbing in the context of this image being from a pornographic shoot.  The erasure of the subject here has an interesting effect.  As a viewer, it is almost as if you are seeing a time past and the act, the pose of the woman has been voided. In modern parlance perhaps it looks as if she has been cancelled from the image!  This is interesting from a feminist perspective and the act of looking at pornography.  The artist chose to use pornographic images for this work and yet subverted the nature of the pornographic element, we can see it is a woman yet it is no longer pornographic as this does not induce sexual desire.  Solomon- Godeau argues that the problem with pornographic work is not with the image itself but that; 'Images, do not casually produce a world of female objects and make subjects; rather they articulate, naturalize and confirm and oppressive order whose roots are elsewhere'  (Solomon-Godeau A. 1991:221) The artist here has understood this notion and has sought to repurpose these archival images and create a new more democratic gaze that questions the nature of looking and how subtraction of the subject can affect the viewers perspective.

In the image above the couple are in an outdoor environment which, depicts illicit sex in a public place and this over-acted representation of sex is again removed by the artist. I chose this image as this had both a male and female interacting (as far as I can tell) the woman appears to be on top of the man.  The interesting thing about this one is that due to the erasure of the subjects all the momentum of the sexual encounter is removed and these voided figures again seem to be speaking to the viewer as a shadow of a past time.  The setting remains real but the flesh and bodies are now nothingness, more like a chalk outline in a crime scene. In Barthes, Camera Lucida Barthes states that: 'Every photograph is a certificate of presence.' (Wike, 2000) and that is the nature of photography on a personal level often, it is just to state; 'I am here, I existed'.  With these images, there is the suggestion that the subjects existed but now without faces or flesh in the image, the removal of their forms, they become anonymous and we can no longer interact with them in the image as we could have previously, their purpose has been removed.  Cohen left us with a trace, a taste of what did once exist in the frame, what do we do as viewers of this scene.  As with a crime scene, this leaves us to imagine the people, the act itself.  We are left with questions and imagination and as voyeurs, we desire to look.   

These images are important as they change the discussion on aspects of photography, the act of looking, pornography, and the feminist perspective and the presence and absence in the image.  When working n my own work I often play with presence and absence in the image.  Looking at this work has made me consider alternative and digital ways to create presence/absence and reconsider how I look at an image and really see...


Cohen, C., 2022. Charles Cohen Art. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 April 2022].

Paul C. (2008) Digital Art, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.

Saatchi Art. 2022. Charles Cohen | Saatchi Art. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 April 2022].

Solomon-Godeau A. (1991) Photography in the Dock, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Wike, L., 2000. Photographs and Signatures: Absence, Presence, and Temporality in Barthes and Derrida – InVisible Culture. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 April 2022].

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