From Photographing the Amazon to Exhibiting in New York – Interview With Max Cohen

From Photographing the Amazon to Exhibiting in New York – Interview With Max Cohen

Updated 19 September 2016 by Thomas
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Chief of the dessana tribe
The chief of the Dessanas tribe

Max Cohen is a photographer and currently lives in Porto Allegre, Brazil. Max started photographing the Brazilian rainforest and its people three years ago. His work presents us with a unique view of the world. He is not necessarily interested to show the raw images captured by the camera but uses them as the basis to create a piece of art in accordance with his own vision. Max exhibited his work at the SoHo ArtHouse Gallery, New York City last year.

In this interview Max talks about his passion for his native Brazil, his fascination with photography and some of his favourite shots.

Thomas (Kagoo): How would you describe your style?

Max: I am particularly interested in fine art photography. I focus on landscape photography and urban scenes. These are my two great interests. I seek to capture the beauty of the real world (and sometimes the not so beautiful side as well) and digitally transform the shot to match my vision.

Did you teach yourself?

Most of the knowledge that I acquired was autodidactic – reading books, magazines and tutorials on the Internet. An important source of knowledge for me was the tutorials at CreativeLive.com.

What fascinates you most about the Amazon?

The nature is fascinating. The Amazon Rainforest gives us endless and beautiful scenes when using its main features for composition: rivers, forests, animals and people. Shooting in the Amazon is a unique experience for any photographer.

What was your most memorable experience while shooting?

A very significant moment for me was during my first visit to the native tribe of Dessanas, who live near Manaus. The tribe has a a lot of contact with visitors. However, they still cultivate their traditions on a daily basis in order to preserve their identity as a collective. Tourists are welcome and treated very well and members of the tribe are always happy to talk about their dances, their food and the way they live. They are very special people.

Dessanas tribe dancing
A traditional dance performed by members of the Dessanas tribe

How do you go about photographing the native peoples of the Amazon?

I was born and raised in Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, and this provides great opportunities to go and visit the indigenous people who inhabit the forest. The first visit I made was with my friends, all experienced photographers, to the village of Dessanas. The tribes near Manaus are easier to visit and you don’t need a special permission to go. The natives are familiar with tourists and accept visits. However, if you want to visit the more remote tribes, the ones who do not have regular contact with outside visitors, your visit needs to be authorized by the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) – a Brazilian Government body.

Do you go on longer trips to take photos? How long and how often do you go?

No, never went very far, most of my trips are a maximum of one hour by boat. I have visited many places near Manaus as it’s very easy to take a boat from there. Unfortuanately I lack the time for longer expeditions. We usually go out in groups to shoot on weekends, about once a month.

What type of camera do you shoot with?

I started shooting with a Canon T3i and now I’m using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?

Choosing a single lens is not easy as I am addicted to lenses! But if I had to choose a single lens I would pick a Canon 24-105mm f/4L. This is a practical lens for all kinds of situations. It has an excellent build and it covers a focal range from wide angle to telephoto.

Can you describe how and when you use flash, reflectors and natural light?

My preference is to use natural light. I rarely use flash when I’m out in the field. Natural light is the key in landscape photography. That means we need to wake up early to capture the early light and we need to be patient to wait for sunset to capture the golden light. When I took portraits of the native tribespeople I didn’t use flash or reflectors in order not to intimidate or harass. I needed to stay alert to find the moments when the natural light was best.

Ruins of paricatuba village
Ruins of the village of Paricatuba near Manaus in the Amazon Rainforest
Shadow of trees reflected in amazon river
Trees reflected in Puraquequara Lake, Manaus

How did the above photo come about?

This photo was a great surprise for me and the result was unexpected. I took this image at Puraquequara Lake in Manaus. These are reflections of trees which grow in an area that flooded. The sun was high and the light came through the leaves. We can see the blue of the sky and the green of the leaves. The water’s small movements almost seems to turn the photo into a painting. It was a moment where I could capture nature creating art. A really beautiful natural landscape.

What software do you use for post processing?

I am using Apple Aperture, Adobe Photoshop and Nik Collection.

How did you come to exhibit in New York?

I saw an invitation from the Soho ArtHouse Gallery in New York to submit photos for a group show in digital format. I got in touch and sent 10 pictures. It was my first contact with a gallery outside of Brazil. It turned out to be a very interesting and modern exhibition. The images were exhibited on displays distributed throughout the gallery.

Are there any photographers that inspire you?

Yes! I really like the works of Alain Briot, Sebastião Salgado, Lars van de Goor, Trey Ratcliff, Andre Boto and Sean Bagshaw.

Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph?

I would love to photography the aurora borealis (northern lights)! I need to make a plan to travel up north. The effects produced by the light are awesome.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue fine art photography?

The dream needs to come before the reality. So…First, imagine the scene. Second, capture the raw scene. Then, plan and execute the digital transformation to get what you dreamed of or envisioned.

What would you like to be doing two years from now?

I will continue to follow my current line of work. But, I also want to make a move towards surrealist photography. I think it will be a new field of study and practice for me.

Manaus harbor
Boats at Manaus Harbour

See more of Max Cohen’s photographs at www.maxcohen.photography.

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