Photographer Adger Cowans, who turned 84-years-old earlier this month (September 19), was one of the few African American artists to work commercially during the mid-twentieth century. Before garnering widespread recognition for his experimental style of image-making, Cowans got his start assisting Gordon Parks – a groundbreaking figure in 20th-century photography – at Life magazine in the 1950s.
Cowans first reached out to Parks while he was pursuing a BFA in photography at Ohio State University. “I wrote Gordon a letter, and he wrote me back and told me to look him up when I got to New York,” explains Cowans. “That summer, I went to New York if Miles Davis was at the Vanguard or Thelonious Monk was at the Five Spot. One of those weekends, I called Gordon.”
“Gordon said (to me), ‘Get on the train and come and see me in White Plains.’ I got there and waited and I saw this powder blue Corvette; the top was down, all-white leather seats. I saw a guy smoking a pipe and he said, ‘Adger Cowans? Gordon Parks.’ I said, “I’m going to be a photographer! Oh boy, this is the deal!’”