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Sorel Cohen

  • born in 1936 in Montréal, Québec
  • father from Poland, mother from White Russia
  • B.F.A. (1974) and M.F.A. (1979), Concordia University, Montréal, Québec

expanded images click on thumbnails at left to view larger images

Photographer Sorel Cohen has focussed her attention on portraiture, particularly self-portraiture, examining her roles as both artist and model, reinterpreting the act of gazing upon woman in art. She uses the repetition of images to introduce an element of time, to emphasize herself as performer in a frame-to-frame situation where she both performs in front of the camera, inviting the gaze, and performs behind the camera as the photographer. As Cohen expressed in a 1980 interview with Diana Nemiroff, "ambiguity is a result of the mechanics of the camera. I exploit that to find new meanings in the images." Her photographs become more than portraiture as they address the history of the woman in art and more recent feminist art history, which questions the traditional role of the woman as model, as object presented solely for the male gaze. Claudia Beck (1984) has noted that when Cohen began graduate school it was as a painting student, so that when she chose instead to pursue photography her work became the site for an intertwining of these two types of imagery. An example of this concern for the image of woman in art is her 1983 series, An Extended and Continuous Metaphor. As Robert Graham described: "Cohen has re-employed herself as model and actor in performing tableaux. Using double and triple exposures, she plays the several parts of portraitist, sitter and observer in wry sketches on the theme of artistic production" (1983). In 1980 Cohen expanded this exploration of artistic production to include a series of photographs of the male nude, in Bacon/Muybridge. She strove not only to recover and reintroduce images from the past, but also to appropriate the male nude as a subject for the female artist, to present a view of homoeroticism from a female perspective. In 1992 Cohen produced a photographic image of a train, etched on glass, called Hauptbahnhof, the train being a reminder of the trains used to transport Jews during World War II. Later, in the 1996 series, The Wounds of Experience, the figure disappeared completely and was replaced by rooms of furniture, exploring the relationship between patient and psychoanalyst. The usual couch and chair was arranged to imply the absent human relationships, creating ghostly and secretive atmospheres that echo the secret-telling of patients in session. Although her work does not generally refer directly to her Polish heritage, she created one piece, called Todesfuge (1996, later called Made Ash), honouring her father’s female relatives who had been lost in the Holocaust. In a series of photographs she superimposed their faces upon her face, in this case weighted with the effect of overlapping faces of the dead with the face of the living. Cohen has explained how the work in a sense expressed about this loss what her father refused to express: "My father lost most of his family in the Holocast. He rarely spoke of his fate or the circumstances under which they died. I was prompted to express this loss by the poem of Paul Celan’s entitled Todesfuge. I made a series of photographs whereby I overlayed my face with those of my father’s murdered female relatives--mothers, sisters, aunts, all copied from a small black, white snapshot. I also included a silk and lace handkerchief with the hateful ghetto badge embroidered on it as part of the installation" (1998).



1997 Wynick/Tuck Gallery, Toronto, Ontario


1996 Galerie Samuel Lallouz, Montréal, Québec


1994 Les Ateliers Nadar, Marseilles, France


1993 Wynick/Tuck, Toronto, Ontario

Galerie Vu, Québec, Québec


1992 Galerie Samuel Lallouz, Montréal, Québec


1991 Wynick/Tuck, Toronto, Ontario


1990 Dazibao, Montréal, Québec


1989 Wynick/Tuck, Toronto, Ontario


1988 Toronto Photographers' Workshop, Toronto, Ontario


1987 Presentation House, Vancouver, British Columbia


1986 Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, Québec


1985 Northlight Gallery, Arizona State University, Arizona


1984 Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge, Alberta

Services culturelles du Québec, Paris, France


1983 Institute for Art and Urban Resources, P.S. 1, New York, New York

Galerie Optica, Montréal, Québec

S.L. Simpson Gallery, Toronto, Ontario


1981 49th Parallel, New York, New York

Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario


1980 Eye Level Gallery, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Mercer Union, Toronto, Ontario


1979 Nova Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia


1977 Galerie Mira Godard, Montréal, Québec



1998 The Word in Art
Art Gallery of  North York, Toronto, Ontario


1997 Here's Looking at Me Kid
Art Gallery of  North York, Toronto, Ontario

a little object
Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research, London, England

Virtue and Vice: Derivations of Allegory in Contemporary Photography
International Photography Research, Amsterdam, The Netherlands;  Site Gallery, Sheffield, England (travelling)


1996 Found Missing: Archival Photographs and the New Historicity
Gallery 44, Toronto, Ontario


1994 Quotation
The Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Contemporary Canadian Works
The Art Gallery of North York, Toronto, Ontario


1993 The Historic Female
Galerie 111, Montréal, Québec

Empowering the Word
Carleton Univeristy Art Gallery, Ottawa, Ontario


1992 Exposition rétrospective
Galerie Optica, Montréal, Québec


1991 Un archipel de désir: les artistes du Québec et la scène internationale
Musée du Québec, Québec, Québec

Practicing Beauty
The Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton, Ontario

The Photographic Image: Photo-Based Works
49th Parallel, New York, New York


1990 Odalesque
Jayne Baum Gallery, New York, New York


1990-89 The Zone of Conventional Practice and Other Real Stories
Galerie Optica, Montréal, Québec (travelling)


1989 Taking Pictures
Presentation House, Vancouver, British Columbia

Galerie d'art Lavalin, Montréal, Québec

Montréal '89
CREDAC, Ivry-sur-Seine, France


1987 Figures
The Cambridge Darkroom, England (travelling)


1986 Songs of Experience
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario

50 Years of Modern Colour Photography, 1936-1986
Photokina, Cologne, Germany

Aorta Gallery, Amsterdam, Holland


1985 Visual Facts: Photography and Video by Nine Canadian Artists
Third Eye Centre, Glasgow, Scotland (travelling)


1984 L'Art pensé, Congrés international d'esthétique
Université de Montréal, Montréal, Québec

Edge and Image
Concordia University Art Gallery, Montréal, Québec

Production and Axis of Sexuality
Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff, Alberta

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario


1983 New Images: Contemporary Québec Photography
49th Parallel Gallery, New York, New York

Photographie actuelle au Québec
Galerie d'art centre Saidye Bronfman/Gallery of the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts, Montréal, Québec



Art Bank, Canada Council, Ottawa, Ontario
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario
Cabinet de la photographie, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France
Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography
Concordia University Art Gallery, Montréal ,Québec
Department of External Affairs, Government of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario
McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario
Musée d'art contemporain, Montréal, Québec
Musée des beaux-arts, Montréal, Québec
Musée du Québec, Québec, Québec
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario
University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta
Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba



Beck, Claudia. An Extended and Continuous Metaphor. Lethbridge, Alberta: Southern Alberta Art Gallery, 1984.

Bringhurst, Robert, ed. Visions: Contemporary Art in Canada. Vancouver, British Columbia: Douglas & McIntyre, 1983.

Ellensweig, Alan. The Homoerotic Photograph: Male Images from Durieu/Delacroix to Mapplethorpe. New York, New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

---."Sorel Cohen at 49th parallel." Art in America (October 1981): 143.

Gillespie, James. "Seeing double: the inter-text of Sorel Cohen." Border/Lines, no. 22 (Summer 1991): 26-31. 

Godmer, Gilles, et Robert Graham. Sorel Cohen. Montréal, Québec: Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, 1986.

Graham, Robert. "Sorel Cohen." Vanguard 12, no. 4 (May 1983): 41.  

Gravel, Clare. "L'extase photographique: quelques photographes Montréalaises." Vie des arts 34, no. 136 (1989): 44-47.

Greenberg, Reesa. "Participants in a parody." C Magazine, no. 12 (Winter 1987): 44-45.

Isaac, Joanne. "Signs of  subversion." Banff Letters (Fall 1984): 3-6.

Miller, Earl. "Past Perfect." Vanguard 17, no. 5 (November 1988): 47.

Nemiroff, Diana. "Sorel Cohen: An interview." Parachute, no. 21 (Winter 1980): 28-31.

Rhodes, Richard. "Sorel Cohen." Artforum (October 1988):158.

Rosshandler, Leo, and Celine Mayrand. Incorporation. Montréal, Québec: Galerie d'art Lavalin, 1989.

Rzadkiewicz, Joan. "The pleasures of psychoanalysis." ETC. Montréal, no. 37 (March/April/ May 1997): 32-36.

Québec Photography Invitational. Montréal, Québec: Centre Saidye Bronfman, 1983.

Scott, Kitty. "Focus: Sorel Cohen." Canadian Art (Summer 1989): 85.

Simon, Cheryl, ed. The Zone of Conventional Practice and Other Real Stories. Montréal, Québec: Optica, 1989.

Sourkes, Cheryl. "Found missing: Archival photographs and the new historicity." Mix Magazine (Winter 1995-96): 32.

St-Gelais, Thérèse. "Sorel Cohen." Parachute, no. 45 (Winter 1986-87): 28-29.

Tuer, Dot. "Sorel Cohen at Wynick/Tuck." Canadian Art (Winter 1994): n.p.

Wilkie, Bob. "Telling pictures, revealing histories." Afterimage 17, no. 9 (April 1990): n.p.

Zelevansky, Lynn. "Sorel Cohen at the 49th Parallel." Flash Art no. 104 (October/November 1981): 55.


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