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Remembering Marie Cosindas Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

3 June 2017

Marie Cosindas ended a colorful life at the age of 93 last week.

She was the eighth of ten children born to Greek immigrants in Boston's South End. Her father was a carpenter, her mother a pretty busy homemaker.

After graduation from the High School of Practical Arts in Roxbury, she enrolled in the Modern School of Fashion Design in Boston to study dressmaking. She also took night courses in painting, drawing and graphic design at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.

She was exposed to photography at the Carl Seimbab Gallery, a Boston institution that was among the first to be devoted to photography, where she had a design studio. She adopted photography to assist her design work and fine art painting.

But on a trip to Greece in 1959 she took her first photographs that pleased her as images in their own right.

When she returned, she began a serious study of photography with Paul Caponigro and by 1961 had sold her first photographs to the Museum of Modern Art. Edward Steichen, who had bought them, also bought one for himself.

She was shooting black-and-white then, according to the conventions of fine art photography. And in 1961 she made the pilgrimage to Yosemite to take a workshop with Ansel Adams.

'I photograph late in the day, the time Rembrandt favored for painting, so that the subtlest hues surface.'

It was worth the trip. Adams made a perceptive observation. He told her she was working in black and white but she was thinking in color. Like a painter.

Adams recommended her to Polaroid in 1962 when the company was looking for a few photographs to promote Polacolor, its new instant color film. Within just three years she began working exclusively in color.

"The world in black and white did not totally satisfy me," she reflected in her book Marie Cosindas: Color Photographs and color seemed the way to add more feeling and mood to what I was already doing."

She used a second-hand Linhof 4x5 camera to expose the Polacolor in natural light but varied the processing to achieve strikingly unique results.

By then John Szarkowski was curator at Museum of Modern Art and he exhibited her first solo show and one of the first photography exhibits to feature color. Szarkowski famously remarked of them, "I don't mean to sound blasphemous -- but they look like paintings."

It was no accident. "I photograph late in the day, the time Rembrandt favored for painting, so that the subtlest hues surface," she said in an interview.

She joined Paul Caponigro, William Clift, Walter Chappell and Carl Chiarenza as co-founders of the Association of Heliographers, a New York photographers' cooperative of the 1960s. The Heliographers' first public exhibition in 1963 promoted "'camera vision' as a way of seeing and recording the world meaningfully rather than mechanically."

Her painterly portraits includes images of Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Faye Dunaway, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Ezra Pound and Tom Wolfe.

A selection of her work can be seen at her gallery, which notes:

Both an historical exception and a product of her times, Cosindas' warm, intimate portraits as well as her reminiscent arrangements separated her from the prevailing trends of Pop Art's irony and Minimalism' rigor that pervaded in the art world.

A more extended appreciation of her work can be found in Phyllis Fong's Marie Cosindas: Instant Color.

She was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University, a Guggenheim grant, a Rockefeller grant and honorary degrees from Philadelphia's Moore College of Art and the Art Institute of Boston.

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