Like so many Americans, Greg Cohen was shocked and dismayed by the tragic shooting at a Newtown, CT, elementary school last January. As the father of a 2-year-old boy and a native of the Newtown area, Cohen was especially shaken by the act of senseless violence. He knew he had to find some way to help. As a photographer, he knew he wanted to respond artistically.
Cohen decided to create a series of provocative photographs that feature young children posing with guns. By doing so, the photographer said he hoped to create images that could be his response to the emotional reaction to the Newtown tragedy and that would remind people of how they felt long after the media had moved on from covering it.
The result is "Farewell To Arms," an exhibit of 20 photographs that is currently on display at The Perfect Exposure Gallery in Los Angeles. The images are of children looking dead-on at the camera. Some are holding pistols. Others stand with rifles. A few even rest against machine guns. All of the weapons are prop guns, but the striking image created by them is powerful nonetheless.
"The whole point of it is to re-sensitize people and move them to action," Cohen said.
Soon after the Newtown tragedy, Cohen took to online parenting forums to share his desire to create this exhibit and to see if other parents would be interested in participating. Many responded, Cohen said, because like him they felt helpless and wanted to in some way contribute to the conversation on gun violence.
In addition to the photographs, Cohen also spent part of last year meeting with victims of gun violence to hear their stories. He recorded those interviews and they are also featured in the exhibit.
The response to "Farewell To Arms" has been overwhelming, Cohen said. The exhibit itself had a strong opening at the gallery in December. Media has responded favorably. Even people in Newtown, who as Cohen noted are still coping with what happened, responded positively to the photographs.
Cohen said the ambiguity of the exhibit is part of what makes it successful. Rather than trying to force a point of view on the art, he said he wanted people who viewed the photographs to have their own individual reactions.
"You're projecting your own view," he said. "I very specifically designed it so all the kids are looking with a penetrating stare right at you, demanding an explanation before you walk away. I'm doing my best to not tell people necessarily what this is, the way you should feel about guns. This is just how I responded artistically."
Cohen says he hopes the exhibit can live on beyond its days at the gallery. Many have already reached out to him hoping to find ways to collaborate and use the images to inspire community programming and exhibits.
"Everybody is uncomfortable (with the photographs)," Cohen said. "If you're uncomfortable, but you understand what it's all about, then let's get together and figure something out."
To learn more about Greg Cohen and his photography, go here: http://gregcohenphotography.com/
To visit his profile on the community platform OurGroup, go here: https://ourgroup.org/accounts/profile/greg-cohen/
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