Art

How did we forget the dream?

…light and darkness always infuse each other in all aspects of life and love…

art by Robin Cohen - Interview by Icarus Blake
butterfly tears ©Robin Cohen

butterfly tears ©Robin Cohen

Robin Cohen is a Psychologist and a Psychoanalyst. This would normally make for a very full and busy life… But not in Robin’s world. Driven by her love for art, she picked up photography a few years ago and she has become an artist in her own right. Trained to dive deep into the labyrinth of the human mind, she has been able to transfer the same depth into her images. Look carefully, you will see so many hidden layers, subtle meanings… It’s a winding, complex journey full of references and, sometimes, haunting realities.

glow sense ©Robin Cohen

glow sense ©Robin Cohen

You describe yourself as a Psychologist and a Photographer. It is an odd mix. Let us assume that Psychology came first, how did photography enter the game?
Yes, psychology did come first. I stumbled upon photography for two reasons. I had always loved art (pastels, drawing, painting) and had been taking a very casual night art class for around 3 years with other parents at my daughter’s school. I was feeling frustrated because my technical skill couldn’t match my vision. I couldn’t make my hand do what I wanted it to do. At around the same time, I had joined the new social network, Google Plus. When I posted a couple of random snapshots on G+ one day, some people started commenting on them. I then discovered that G+ was filled with photography pages where people were posting and discussing their photos. Upon seeing these amazing photos, I started to wonder how they were created, and got addicted to learning about photography. I wanted to create images like that!! With photography, my vision could be fully realized through computer programs, like Photoshop, and apps in post-processing, and there were no limits to how far I could go.
So, the thing that links psychology and photography in this story is CURIOSITY! You need to be curious to be a psychotherapist, a psychoanalyst. What allows you to enter into someone else’s world is a sense of wanting to know, wanting to understand. Being curious enables you to dig in and discover. Photography became important to me, not only as an artistic endeavor and as an expression of my unconscious experience (which it is), but as a puzzle, a way to continually grow and learn and feed my curiosity by relating to others’ art as well as my own.

red rock miracle ©Robin Cohen

red rock miracle ©Robin Cohen

Let us talk a bit about the synergies and interactions of the two disciplines, how do they integrate and help each other?
Being a psychoanalyst, I am interested in finding ways to express inchoate, unconscious experience. This is also what art is about (for me at least): finding a way to process and express feelings that have no words or expression yet. For me it is like therapy because it is an emergent process… as I work on the photo in post-processing I keep experiencing it over and over and finding my emotional way into it. What I have discovered by being a psychoanalyst is that there is no big wall between “reality” and “fantasy” in our daily experience, and that we always bring our inner worlds of fantasy into our experience of the world and our expression of ourselves in the world. We all see what we see through the lens of our inner desires, fears, hopes and joys, and imbue our world with our emotions. This has helped, in my photographic work, to accept and understand my need to express what I “see”, not as a reproduction of the what is “out there”, but as a creation of my unconscious and conscious desires, hopes and needs. I used feel uncomfortable about creating something that wasn’t “true” to what was actually there, but I realize now how sterile it would feel to leave my own subjectivity out of the photo. You can’t really leave your own subjectivity out of any photo, but I choose to emphasize and celebrate what I bring to the photo through my own fantasies.

how did we forget the dream ©Robin Cohen

how did we forget the dream ©Robin Cohen

Photography has a big role in the preservation of memories, and often in their accuracy. I often look at old images and I realize that my ‘non visual’ memory of the event is very different to the reality depicted in the photo. Why do we tend to dissociate the two?
There are so many interesting places to go with that question. First, I think that your non-visual memory incorporates so much more than the visual photo does. You have remembered this event not only through your eyes, but through your ears, the feelings in your body, your heart, etc. And that can’t be seen in a snapshot created by someone else, although they might be able to see it in there. The person who created the photo might have incorporated that feeling or experience in the way they composed the photo and processed it, but they didn’t bring all of your experiences into it.
And that’s why I love to create photos: I want to incorporate that unconscious feeling and interpretation component into the photo. I want to show what I experienced during that moment and go even further… I want to express all that that moment was and all it could be in infinite time, space and experience.

fantasy land ©Robin Cohen

fantasy land ©Robin Cohen

You photograph mainly nature and flowers in particular. There are almost no humans in your pictures and yet you work with humans at their most fragile and deepest level. You also being a Psychoanalyst… I am in a tricky position here, will you please analyze this a bit?
Excellent question… at this point it is partly a question of my technical development. I am actually beginning to work more seriously toward creating portraits. It is more involved, in terms of learning how to work with lighting and to get people to pose.
When photographing people, there is a difference in how people want to look in portraits and what it means to have your camera see them at their most fragile and deep level. Many people (at least in Los Angeles/Hollywood) want to look as close to perfect as possible and don’t really want to be seen at their most vulnerable. That is why I do selfies more often. I am ok with treating myself as an object or subject of my art, and it is tolerable for me to look imperfect and un-pretty.
In psychotherapy, individuals can feel more protected in their fragility and exposure because of the amount of time they take to get to know and trust their therapist. When they are photographed, this is the exposure of a different level, and they feel that they have no control over it.
That being said, I don’t see that much difference in doing portraits of people vs. portraits of nature. Everything in nature has a personality and a fragile and deep self they are trying to communicate, so that is part of my manifesto: to express who this dandelion is, what this ocean is saying and to illuminate and glorify these “traits”. Nature lets you completely demolish and reconstruct it in artistic creation.

sunday daydream ©Robin Cohen

sunday daydream ©Robin Cohen

I have read a book by Norman Doidge about Neuroplasticity recently. About how the brain can be stimulated into healing itself. Neuro science in general seems to advance very quickly these days. It appears to me that one of your mind’s gifts is to transcend science and explore diverse playing fields of the human mind. Your interest for Buddhism is one example. So, please, tell us: are we on the way to break the status quo and prove that there is a lot more to the mind than we previously knew?
I’m so glad you brought up Norman Doidge. What brilliant ideas and findings! I hope that we are on the way to transcending the status quo and to taking the mind out of the head. I think, paradoxically, one of the ways we are studying the outer limits of the mind is to study the brain and to begin to understand how much it is a completely dynamic, emergent system it is, rather than a thing that is “smart” or gets broken. We are realizing how much of being-ness is a continuous feedback loop of mutual influence with all of nature.
I think what you are picking up on is the idea that all of life is an interconnected process, not a static predetermined thing or set of events. I do feel that my interests in psychology and photography and the way I approach those processes are part of this divergent, emergent approach to learning and growing.

the light in your eyes ©Robin Cohen

the light in your eyes ©Robin Cohen

The advent of digital photography, has proved us that images are nothing else than lines of codes that can be processed and altered by machines. Obviously, the brain has always worked in a similar way when it comes to images. Let us assume that we find out how to manage that process and how to interfere with the origin of that code inside the brain… would that be the end of photography as we know it?
Why would that be the end of photography… wouldn’t we then create even more experiential, interactive photography by having a process that could alter the code in our head? Wouldn’t we still want to see how other people’s lines of code (even altered) interpret an experience?

mystery moon ©Robin Cohen

mystery moon ©Robin Cohen

As an experiment, I scrolled through your image feeds very fast and I realized that you privileged warm colors in the majority of your pictures. Can you tell us why?
Excellent observation!! I have an affinity for warmer colors in all things: home, office, hair color, etc. There is a further set of tones that I privilege beyond just warm colors. I call these tones: “colors in a minor key”. People who are familiar with my work often comment on my having a very particular color palette. While I don’t consciously set out to do this, the colors I like and like to use, feel to me to have a slight down note, or sadness as a harmony to the sweetness and light. It probably expresses my personal (and in my work) belief about how light and darkness always infuse each other in all aspects of life and love.

otherness ©Robin Cohen

otherness ©Robin Cohen

You are technically very skilled. Are you self-thought?
I am generally self-taught, in terms of not attending any formal art or photography school. I seek out opportunities to be part of mentorships, where we focus on developing certain skills, or watching tutorials. More recently (over the past 4 months) I have joined something called “The Arcanum” which is like an online Hogwart’s for photographers. I am in a group with other photographers, and we have a mentor who fosters and encourages our development and growth. This is a wonderful way to learn photography.

surreal brooklyn ©Robin Cohen

surreal brooklyn ©Robin Cohen

If you could have a photography dream assignment and take 3 months off to complete it, what would it be?
Yikes!! That is a tough question!! I feel like I need 5 lifetimes to do all that I want to do! Although the most common answer would be that I would travel to all these fabulous new places and get incredible photos (and I am not ruling that out), I probably would choose to spend three months intensively learning some photographic skill that is totally new to me. Perhaps attend a portrait school, or a school involving still life photography or focusing only on black and white. While the traveling option is always a good one, I think the locations and events you get to shoot aren’t as important as the ways in which you shoot them.

m_other unity ©Robin Cohen

m_other unity ©Robin Cohen

Let me end with a quote by German filmmaker Wim Wenders:
“The digitized picture has broken the relationship between the picture and reality once and for all. We are entering an era when no one will be able to say whether a picture is true or false. They are all becoming beautiful and extraordinary, and with each passing day, they belong increasingly to the world of advertising. Their beauty, like their truth, is slipping away from us. Soon they will really end up making us blind”
Pretty pessimistic, do you agree with his vision?

I really do love Wim Wenders and I can see his point here, if you take it to the most hypothetical extreme. And I do see some of this happening, with us going in this direction. But there are other possibilities alongside this digital confusion and blandness that he seems to describe. There is also the possibility that through the same methods, we can have a greater ability to express ourselves. We will have more nuanced ways to find, show and share our feelings and perceptions with each other. If we can do that, perhaps there is hope for greater vision and empathy.

You can see a complete selection of Robin Cohen’s work here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+RobinCohen/posts    robinscohenphotos.smugmug.com

You can check Robin Cohen’s Psychology website here: robinscohenphd.com

embark ©Robin Cohen

embark ©Robin Cohen

silver moment ©Robin Cohen

silver moment ©Robin Cohen

©Robin Cohen

©Robin Cohen

silver moment ©Robin Cohen

silver moment ©Robin Cohen

frantic light ©Robin Cohen

frantic light ©Robin Cohen

 

wonder ©Robin Cohen

wonder ©Robin Cohen

 

21 Responses to “How did we forget the dream?”

  1. Ron Cliffored says:

    A brilliant an very insightful interview!! You are such an inspiration Robin.

    • Robin Cohen says:

      Thank you Ron!. I appreciate your help and support!. This interview really helped me think through these ideas, rc

  2. Jennifer walton says:

    Fantastic Robin and I am in awe of your talent!

  3. Darcee says:

    Wonderful insight into your art, Robin. You’ve really got a brilliant talent for communicating your emotions in your art! Thanks for sharing your vision.

  4. Myron says:

    I so very much enjoyed this interview, and the wonderful and enlightening explanations. This artwork is nothing short of stunning. The photos literally prompt one to stop and think. Thank you for the entire article. Richly enjoyed and appreciated.

    • robin cohen says:

      thank you Myron… I am grateful to hear that you are stimulated and enlightened by my work!!

  5. John Christopher says:

    Awesome!! (Thoughts and artwork)

  6. Ilene Philipson says:

    This has allowed me to understand what you are doing in a way I really hadn’t taken in. The is thoughtful, eloquent, and the photos so beautiful. A remarkable example of applied psychoanalysis and psychoanalytically informed art. Stunning!

  7. Madeleine Moskowitz says:

    Robin, Your photos are amazing and I love seeing them in one place. I especially love the beach one in color. I am not surprised that you are able to talk about your work in such an insightful and interesting way. It’s fun to read about your thinking about these images. Warm colors do make me think of you! xxx

  8. robin cohen says:

    thank you so much Madeleine!! What a lovely compliment!! I appreciate your visit!!

  9. peggy dubois says:

    Robin, I am in love with your work. Stunning and extraordinary; extrasensory. I needed you this morning so thank you for your timing.

    xxPeggy

  10. Sally Cassidy says:

    Robin, how wonderful to get an “inside view” of your wonderful work. I learned so much from the interview along with your photography – A sense of the relationship of the created with the creator.
    Thanks so much!

    • robin cohen says:

      thank you so much Sally!!! I appreciate you visiting and making such an incisive comment!!

  11. Timmy says:

    These photos are ableoutsly amazing. I love them. They definitely are a tear-jerker .in a good way. Kim & Andrew are such an attractive couple. Amy, you are extremely talented and I enjoy looking at your work. Cheers!

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