By Maurice Berger
The pictures accompanying Adger Cowans’ essay in a new monograph on his work are not his professional photos, but snapshots from his personal life: his childhood home, a group portrait of his mother’s relatives in their Sunday best, and Mr. Cowans cradling his godchild.
These pictures affirm the importance of photography not just in Mr. Cowans’ life, but also in the lives of millions of African Americans for whom it was a way to show themselves as they wanted to be seen, and in marked contrast to the negative stereotypes they often confronted. But for Mr. Cowans, these informal images also underscore his understanding of the medium as personal, humanistic, and intimate.
“Personal Vision: Photographs” (Glitterati) is a comprehensive introduction to an important but under-known photographer with a varied career: he worked as a Navy photographer, apprentice to Gordon Parks, documentarian in 1960s Harlem, and as a Hollywood portrait and on-set photographer.
Mr. Parks was one of his most ardent admirers. “Often such talent abides by rules set by others, but Adger’s individualism sets him apart, simply because he follows his own convictions,” wrote Mr. Parks. “His photographs go far as imagery can go without actually speaking. Cowans has acquired the freedom to master himself.”