John Cohen is a maverick and a multi-talent artist. Founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers as well as folk musician raved about by Patti Smith, photographer, anthropologist and filmmaker, Cohen played a singular role in registering figures from American popular culture, such as his portraits of Jack Kerouac, Kooning Willem, Robert Frank, Allen Ginsberg, Woodie Guthrie and a Bob Dylan about to make it into the limelight.
What makes a man? And what makes an artist? John Cohen’s life, he who was a musician, a photographer, a musicologist, a documentary filmmaker and an anthropologist, do not provide us a precise and clearly defined answer, scientifically unassailable. From the New York City where everything seemed to be happening while the 50s of the beats was making way to the 60s folk revival, from the depths of the mythical South of the United States, from there to the Andine mountains where he regularly met the Q’ero people, John Cohen’s path makes answering the above questions a difficult task. Maybe all comes down to an insatiable curiosity and to his ethics in preserving and registering what makes us human. John Cohen was a musician with the New City Ramblers, a pivotal band in the folk regeneration of the 60s, he captured Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Willem de Kooning with his photographic lenses. John Cohen was so many things that it is hard to frame him and to acknowledge his relevance: who is, after all, this man who carried so many lives inside him? We watch him climbing the Andes, an octogenarian, to meet again the families of shepherds and weavers who were friends since decades ago. We see him remembering, with vivacious detail, the mood in the room where he photographed Jack Kerouac. We see him singing and playing the banjo, young in the 50s and amongst the young some years ago. We see John Cohen and we see a lot: the immensity of so many different worlds revealing themselves. (Mário Lopes)