Adger Cowans (b. 1936) is one of the first African American students to earn a degree in Photography from Ohio University in 1958, and furthered his education at the School of Motion Picture Arts and School of Visual Arts in New York City. Following graduation, Cowans obtained a position assisting photographer Gordon Parks at LIFE Magazine. Cowans later served in the United States Navy in Virginia Beach, VA and continued to work as a photographer. Cowans also has a storied career in cinema as a film still photographer on over thirty Hollywood sets, and worked with directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, and Spike Lee.


One of the most poignant moments in Cowans’s career occurred while living and working in New York City during the early 1960s. Cowans was recruited by James Ray Francis to become a founding member of The Kamoinge Workshop, and along with Louis Draper, would be the only members with a formal education in the arts. Kamoinge, translating to “group effort” from the language of the Kikuyu people of Kenya, sought to present the Black community with dignity and positivity, which was antithetical to the stereotypical portrayal by the media. He is currenly President of the workshop.


For Cowans, the paramount elements of photography, and art at large, are heart and feeling. Cowans describes the act of photographing as such: “When I take a picture, I feel it. When you get that rush of feeling inside of you of ‘I have it. I felt it’.” Communication of spirit and emotion are essential to Cowans’s practice, and a close second is the ability to capture light and shadow. Two exemplary images of this exploration are Icarus, 1970 and Three Shadows, 1968. Icarus depicts the blazing sun, and small human figure at the bottom of the frame, perhaps falling with melting wings of wax. Three Shadows shows three young girls walking down a sidewalk in the Bronx with their long shadows stretched out in front of them. The ritual act of taking a photograph as a kind of spiritual practice is also important to Cowans, and when that is combined with the technical aspect of understanding of the qualities of light, that sacred space is where pictures become art.

Selected Works
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