August 2023 | Interview with Hagit Cohen, Photographer, and Mixed Media Artist – Part II
“For a moment, this mundane structure, the tent, turned into a sanctuary. It took my breath away… So many elements celebrating the poetry and magic of life. The pure, incredible mystery of the moment. I’m so touched by it!”
Symbols of Transformation and Life
Looking at the tree pods series, it’s hard to imagine that the real pods are very small. It’s easy to overlook them or kick them as you hike. By picking them up and isolating them in the studio on a white background, presenting them in a three-dimensional way, and enlarging them, I’m giving them agency to speak about their importance in the cycle of life. In the shamanic tradition, everything has agency: plants, rocks, animals, and even still life. The pods are infused with symbolic power (like a specific tool that shamans create for healing) and act as agents of new awareness and change. It’s really a collaboration between me as an artist and the “shamanic tools” of Nature, to impact the people who see the photographs.
In my photography, I “paint” and “draw” with elements I find in Nature. In a way, I capture Nature’s own drawings. The shadows of the elements I photograph have an important role in the composition I create. In a series I made, titled Erodium Seeds, I captured the seeds in such a way that they look like dancing figures or calligraphic elements. I found myself “drawing” with the seeds and their shadows, like a choreographer of a dance. When the Erodium seeds are dry and ready, they become like screws. They burrow into the earth and stay in the dark until they’re ready to come out again. They are very gentle in their shape but tenacious. What a metaphor for life! The dichotomy of Nature—how fragile and how powerful it is.
My imagery takes you beyond the thing I photograph to a deeper story or mystery. In the Summer of 2017, I was in Aspen, Colorado, walking in an open-air music complex. There was a reception area with unattractive canvas tents. As I passed by one of the tents, I saw the shadows of the Aspen trees reflecting on the tent with the evening light. For a moment, this mundane structure, the tent, turned into a sanctuary. It took my breath away. All I had to do was to see it, capture it, and print it on large silk panels to re-create the sanctuary feeling I experienced. So many elements celebrating the poetry and magic of life. The pure, incredible mystery of the moment. I’m so touched by it!
There was a period of time when I was physically struggling and didn’t have much energy. I ended up working in the studio for only a couple of hours a day with the afternoon light. During that time I photographed a few pieces of palm tree bark I found in Ojai, California. I created a whole series of imaginary scenes resembling water with the dry bark. I think about “drought” as a psychological/emotional experience as well as a natural state.
Shortly after, I was given a gallery space for a month where I was able to create an immersive experience, inviting people to walk through a “forest” of layered translucent printed screens with my drought images. I used projected images on the screens as well, so the viewer couldn’t tell what was projected and what was printed. As the viewers walked through the space, they came across a lit alcove with a real pod full of potential. The work’s very metaphoric. It could represent the emotional difficulties one goes through as well as the tragic impact of climate change. The journey of healing can be a fascinating, yet disorienting journey that maybe opens a door for change to come through.
In the latest piece I created, titled And Then Came Forth Fire, I combined the palm tree image (scroll to the bottom of the page) with the Old Testament story of Nadav and Avihu, two of Aaron’s sons. Aaron, the High Priest, performed the first sacrificial ritual at the Tabernacle in the desert, as instructed by God. His two sons used a slightly different incense at the start of the ritual and were consumed right away by God’s fire.
I chose to use the distorted palm tree bark image because of its ominous presence. I wanted to create a visceral response in the viewer, seeing the distorted tree fronds due to disease as again a metaphor for the state of our environment. Our state is so complex. What do we do right, what do we do wrong?
I lure the viewer with beauty to think about complex ideas on the Earth and on our humanity.
You can explore Hagit’s wonderful portfolios, which include When Stones Speak and Trees Whisper, and Acid Rain, as well as the ones described in the interview. There are also some delightful and enlightening short videos of Hagit’s work.
I wash an apple in the kitchen sink
over a bucket to catch each precious drop
in drought-laden California. On its red skin,
streaked yellow-green, small light spots
shine like stars. I lift this cosmos
to my nose and breathe in its scent.
A thin stream of water bubbles up
from the well. Water—one and a half
gallons each flush. Water—the car, the lawn.
Water imprinted with codes
that tell of life’s very beginnings,
O, holy lakes of the Sierra!
I put the apple in a bag to take on a walk.
I bring another bag to pick up trash
from our Mother’s face. I’m not obsessive,
just restoring beauty that sits outside my door—
the loquat tree my friend calls a giant birdfeeder
is also a sweet canopy of light and dark greens pulsing
with apricot-colored lights. Live oaks, bay laurels, eucalyptus
offer their limbs to thrushes and bugs. All hues
of pink and purple burst from sweet peas.
Floppy-eared bleating goats graze a neighbor’s yard,
while across the way a brown gelding and two mares
maintain a field. Last winter they wore coats on cold,
damp days. Once more they’re covered—
to protect them against the heat
we busily create each day to seal our fate.
O, Skyscraping, arrogant creature.
Searching for seeds of wisdom, seeds of hope, inside
that juicy orb I find a light, a lamp,
and the core of a story threading through thousands
of years—those who’ve endured without
extinguishing that apple or its tree.
From The Dreams We Share