Mark Cooper

Photographer - Artist


Mark Cooper was born in Carlisle in 1965 and was brought up in Keswick in the Lake District, England. After living in London for several years and having travelled extensively, particularlyin the Middle East and North Africa, doing photographic reportage, he settled in Piedmont, in Northern Italy, where he has lived since 1993.

For over 15 years he dedicated his photographic efforts to the project "Earthscapes – the Art of Landscape", producing images from a selection that occurs, by necessity, from on high, from a privileged position that allows an integral vision of the landscape itself and where the elements that comprise it appear as "abstract works of pittura segnica (painting featuring calligraphic marks and signs) and portions of the surface regulated by patterns in which a metaphysical silence reigns." (1)

There are many points of view from which it is possible to reveal original and moving aspects of reality: at 500 m altitude, or kneeling to scrutinise the same landscape from 5 cm. The impact with the world around is visual and it is there that one needs to examine to find the most exciting and evocative parts on which to feed and to dream.

But sometimes you have to go further and look beyond the purely objective data by creating fantastic structures in response to an inner need: to present the eyes with new stimuli in order to continue with the investigation of the world. It starts from a fragment of reality (macro-photography) of elements of nature, such as iron and wood, worn by time and abandoned by man, but also ice, stone, water which assume a new identity in the ordered chaos of the composition.

Also in the metropolitan reality the images undergo a creative rebirth in the unusual overlap of their elements; here the photographic three-dimensionality of the detail astounds us and at the same time reassures us because between the colours, shapes, stained walls, “metropolitan art” and messages, a "painterly" chaos reigns. The generative process of that world made from layered "pieces of reality" adheres perfectly to the agreement that Cooper has made with the surrounding world. The impact with reality, beautiful or ugly as it might be, provides material to reflect upon and then to create and make important changes which are not only visual.

It is in observing the works as a whole from a distance that you enjoy the visually more attractive impact, arranged according to the mathematical laws inherent in nature itself; but it is from very close up that one discovers within the structure, sharp and clear, the basic element that has created it and which becomes surprising, interesting and useful once again, at least to our eyes. It is like completing a cycle: from nature, transformed and degraded by the action of the elements, to structural formations that come back to the micro-infinitesimal, giving them new life. The path starts from observation, from the surprise and elation at the potential discovered and the consequent need to create because there is no alternative: they obey the inner laws of the all-natural, the instinctive. To create is to live. Life coincides with art, which starts from nature. It is an unbreakable bond which for Cooper becomes art-life and therefore essential: nature.

(1) Elisabetta Longari- Teaches History of Contemporary Art at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, Milan.


The photographs of Mark Cooper

document an important turning point in the history of Contemporary Art, in which photography is still considered a trespasser. We will attempt the difficult task of explaining this. At the beginning of the last century, the age-old Figurative culture and practice was shaken by a revolution: artists rebelled against the tradition, the age-old code requiring them to represent reality ‘as seen’ in the most faithful way possible: the "picture", if it didn’t copy the object faithfully, was not "artistic".

The rebellion of the artists spread like wild-fire to every country. A new type of painting called Abstraction was born from the refusal to be constrained into representing reality in order to extol the appropriate feelings, allowing them to envisage thought, not only through mimetic forms, but also by pure lines and pure colours. So the Artist, for the hundred years that have passed since then, finally believed that, through Abstraction, they had liberated themselves from the domination of Nature. This -in hard facts - both in the Market and at major Museums, to put it in the simplest way, was closing and had closed the doors to Photography and the Photographer, who have lived and live, if not begging criticism, then almost.

In the hundred-year history of Abstract Art, thousands of works have been created. We need only to think of the masterpieces hanging in the largest Museums where, if a photograph is encountered, it comes as an absurd surprise: hundreds of historians, critics and even psychoanalysts and various other analysts have written millions of books, essays and scientific texts on these masterpieces. Abstract art was the Genesis of a cultural ‘Copernican’ universe, whose centre was no longer Nature, the Real, but that which, before becoming ‘Image’, didn’t exist.

Now something very interesting happens: and we are not afraid to call it historical. It happens that a good photographer, named Mark Cooper, has put the reality we see with our eyes, and thus Nature, back in what has always been its place: at the centre of the Artistic Universe, and so the Copernican reverts to the Ptolemaic.

The photographs of Mark Cooper are classic examples of Abstractionism still being Photographs of the real, and we like to call it, at the very least, a linguistic miracle.

Ando Gilardi - Historian of Photography, founder member of the Italian National Photography Library.


The Earth, seen from the Moon

To start with there is, with as much certainty as unconsciousness, the same driving force that led to the shot of the famous photograph Élevage de poussière (Dust Breeding), which forms part of the Large Glass by Marcel Duchamp (Rrose Sélavy) “captured” in New York in 1920 by the lens of Man Ray, who was often another eye for Duchamp (the third eye?). The caption which accompanied its publication in issue number 5 of the magazine “Littérature” edited by André Breton and Philippe Soupault helps in the approach to this indecipherable image in which the work of Duchamp becomes completely transfigured. <<Here is the domain of Rrose Sélavy/ how arid it is – how fertile it is -/ how joyous it is – how sad it is>>. Followed by the precious information:<<View taken from a plane by Man Ray, 1921>>.

Do not take into consideration the inaccuracy of the date (the photograph was in fact taken in 1920), but the essence of the discourse. The work of Duchamp, unrecognizable, is revealed as a distant continent to be explored from above, where ambivalence seems to be the main feature: so arid and so fertile, so joyous so sad.

This, and not that of the more ingenuous and “mechanical” futuristic aerial-painting, is the climax that Mark Cooper’s work transmits to the eye of he who looks.

His photographs (all aerial) are based on distancing as a condition necessary to the vision. Close up it lacks perspective and the depth necessary to be seen.

His hovering eye cuts and selects fragments which make up a sampling of the territory, they resemble abstracted pieces of pittura segnica (painting featuring calligraphic marks/signs), parts of surfaces regulated by patterns in which metaphysical silence reigns.

The Langhe, home to Cooper for some time now, is an area privileged by his excursions, but in no way is this a parochial discourse, rather a placing on the page, an underlining of the beauty of nature, whether natural or ordered by human agriculture. The work undoubtedly contains an indirect cry to the collective responsibility in drawing, marking, wounding our planet that, Cooper seems to say, seen from above, is more beautiful than all art put together.

Elisabetta Longari

Teaches History of Contemporary Art at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, Milan.