Show displays photographer Adger Cowans’ assortment, from Civil Legal rights to celebs : NPR

Ora Sawyers

Photographer Adger Cowans, who included every little thing from the Civil Legal rights movement to movie stars, has a new show at age 85 in Fairfield, Conn.


An show on show now in Connecticut showcases the operate of Adger Cowans. He is a Black photographer and painter whose topics assortment from civil legal rights marches to Hollywood film sets. Connecticut Community Radio’s Ryan Caron King delivers us to Cowans’ studio, wherever the artist displays on his life’s do the job.

RYAN CARON KING, BYLINE: Adger Cowans shuffles through a stack of prints. Sketches, collages and paintings address almost every single surface area in his studio.

ADGER COWANS: Enable me see. What else?

CARON KING: There is certainly a photograph of Sarah Vaughan carrying out at the Newport Jazz Fest and a photograph of Mick Jagger soothing in a hammock. Cowans pulls out a photo of a smaller woman silhouetted towards the piercing beams of the sunshine. She seems to be like she’s slipping towards the floor.

COWANS: This is Icarus. They ended up throwing a minimal lady up with a blanket on the beach, and I would just gotten a 21-millimeter lens. And I obtained serious close to the edge of the blanket, and I shot this photo. And it reminded me of Icarus.

CARON KING: Which is following the Greek mythological figure who flew as well shut to the sunshine.

Cowans, who’s 85, was one of the very first Black college students to gain a diploma in images from Ohio College in the late 1950s. He claims, developing up, he normally listened to what the older males all-around him have been speaking about.

COWANS: I was a information provider. I was a paper boy, so I was studying papers even though I was carrying them. So I was rather up on what was going on in the environment. And the points that upset me was about racism – it however upsets me – about Black persons receiving hung and killed and shot at. It received me. It will get me these days.

CARON KING: Cowans says he faced a good deal of racism working in a predominantly white market. He obtained his big crack when celebrated photojournalist Gordon Parks, who was the initially Black personnel photographer at Existence journal, employed Cowans as his assistant.

COWANS: So I took all that racism and rejection and every thing, and I put it in my do the job. That was a single of the huge factors I discovered from Gordon Parks – was to consider destructive electricity and convert it into constructive electric power.

CARON KING: Cowans was also the to start with Black continue to photographer in Hollywood, doing work with administrators like Spike Lee and Francis Ford Coppola. He didn’t permit the movie stars faze him. He wanted to get to know the folks he photographed.

COWANS: I required those times of daily life flowing past me, regardless of whether it was film stars, whether or not it was people today going for walks down the road, no matter whether it was an summary. No make any difference what it was, if I experienced a experience listed here in my heart, then it was crucial to me to do it.

CARON KING: Halima Taha is the curator for Cowans’ new exhibition at the Fairfield College Artwork Museum in Connecticut. She says she poured by hundreds of his images to choose the appropriate types with him for the gallery – some photographs that have been posted in advance of and quite a few that hadn’t.

HALIMA TAHA: A single of the things that takes place to lots of artists, and notably artists of African descent, is that the exact same visuals hold staying reproduced or exhibited due to the fact people today are familiar with them.

CARON KING: Taha suggests Cowans bought a good deal of aid from his household and local community increasing up in Columbus, Ohio, and it gave him the conviction and self-confidence to cope with the prejudice he confronted afterwards.

TAHA: I feel that because he came out of that form of surroundings, he was able to aim on acquiring himself as a human getting, as a visual artist and in distinct as a photographer.


CARON KING: Back again in his studio, Cowans is painting. That’s what he spends most of his time carrying out now, and he’s not wondering of halting at any time shortly. He suggests he did not set out a ebook of his photography until he was 80.

COWANS: Persons say, effectively, what do you want your legacy to be? I really don’t know just about anything about legacy. You know, it’ll be what it is. It’ll be what the folks make it. I can not make my legacy. I really don’t even know what that is. All I want to do is the operate, and it’s going to be regardless of what it’s going to be.

CARON KING: For NPR Information, I am Ryan Caron King.


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