Adger Cowans explores the art of water and light


Adger Cowans explores the art of water and light

Good luck asking veteran photographer Adger Cowans, 81, how he produces his much-praised water and light series of personal art photographs. “People always ask me that,” says Cowans, smiling as if to signal he’s happy to deflect the question. Then, after a lengthy pause, he adds, “They wonder if I put oil or mercury on the water or somehow manipulate the photographs.”

© Adger Cowans

“Well?” asks a visitor to his Bridgeport, Connecticut studio. “Do you?”

“Heck no!” says Cowans with a broad smile. “Never. No oil. And I don’t even know how to use Photoshop!”

He laughs and adds, “I don’t want to let everyone know my secrets, do I? People often ask me what did I do to make these photographs. I tell them I don’t do anything; I just capture what is there.”

While Cowans is cagey about exactly how he produces these images, which have been described as “mystical,” “timeless,” and resembling abstract impressionistic paintings, he will admit that these pictures are deeply personal. He has been producing them since the late 1960s. “They’re about as far from photographic assignments as I can get,” he explains. “I’ve been exploring the spiritual aspects of water and light for years without any intention of trying to sell or market them. They force me to slow down and really look. And they keep all my work fresh. They are heartfelt. I treat them as my art.”

© Adger Cowans

Others agree. The artist and writer Romare Bearden has noted, “In water—still water, running water, even frozen water—Cowans invites us to see a universe in microcosm. ...The success of these photographs need not be explained; rather, they are a cause of celebration. After all, the power of art is irresistible.”

Cowans has made these personal photographs in both black-and-white and color but prefers the former. “I think color is OK but can detract from the image,” he explains. “All people often see is color and not the image. I prefer trying to get those more subtle grays and whites that I see in water.”

He confesses he’s far from finished photographing water and light. His dream destination is Venice. “Imagine the spirits, the reflections, the tones I could find in those waters and that light!”  

RELATED: Veteran photographer Adger Cowans is still learning at 81

RELATED: A gallery of Adger Cowans images

Robert Kiener is a writer in Vermont.

Tags: black & white photographypersonal photography project

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