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On Watch - Matthew Cohen

Matthew CohenWith his love of sailing, keen eye and passion for photography, Matthew Cohen of Newport, Rhode Island is establishing himself as one of the top shooters in the very competitive world of yachting photography.

“I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and grew up all around the country, but I consider Milford, Connecticut home,” says Matthew. “I started sailing under the wing of my grandfather out of Bar Harbor, Maine, and started racing at Roger Williams in 1998. My first boat was a Phantom, which was similar to a Sunfish, although I took it out in a nor’easter and destroyed it. Then I acquired a Hobie 16, but it was wrecked in

© Suki Finnerty

another nor’easter when its beach anchor was ripped out. Since then, I’ve sailed on other peoples’ boats!”

“I had some college credits to fill, so I took a Photo 101 class. When I developed my first roll of 35mm black & white film and made my first enlargements in the darkroom it was magic, and immediately I didn’t care about anything else I’d studied. Although I earned a BA in Psychology, I decided to marry my two passions of sailing and photography and I’ve been shooting professionally for nine years.”

“One of the best nautical photographers, Onne Van der Wal, lives in Newport and I met him at a regatta party. I asked what I could do to help him and he replied, ‘Can you drive a boat?’ I worked for Onne as a chase boat driver, location assistant and gallery salesperson for almost two years, and then I got the itch to go on my own. I met another local photographer, Clint Clemens, who is best known for his car photography. He lives about a block from me and I still work for him part-time. Clint is not on the cutting edge of digital photography – he is the cutting edge. He and Onne have both been instrumental in advancing my career.”

“In addition to stock photography, I work on assignment for magazines and companies,” says Matthew, whose extensive client list includes National Geographic, SAIL, Sailing, Sailing World, Cruising World, Blue Water Sailing, Pearson Marine Group, Morris Yachts, LaserPerformance and US Sailing. “The third avenue of my work is fine art, based on the nautical world: water, wildlife, beaches, bridges and lighthouses, although it’s a little abstract. You can recognize the image, but it might be a reflection or refraction that takes a minute to think about. As a creative person, it’s more enjoyable for me to look for something different.”

“Ten or fifteen of the top guys in the industry live here on Aquidneck Island and the competition is pretty stiff. I try to be positive and productive with the people who are ahead of me, and it’s been very helpful. When I shot the Centennial Newport Bermuda Race in 2006 I tried to separate myself from my competition. There were eleven starts and I shot the first five from a chase boat, then I was dropped off at my car and drove to where I had a helicopter waiting. It was a calculated risk and I took it, and there were some good dividends. I just came back from shooting the St. Barths Bucket Regatta for the third time. I love the island, the people, the boats and the conditions – it’s a great package and an incredible event. I’m looking forward to shooting the Volvo Ocean Race in Newport this month and the Transatlantic Race next month.”

“I’ve been a bowman for many years, and one of the challenges I face as both a sailor and photographer is avoiding distractions when I’m on the bow. The sun might come from behind the clouds and produce perfect lighting, and I’ll have to shake off photography and get back into race mode. Likewise, when I’m out shooting in epic conditions I might see a boat that’s haulin’ the mail and think, ‘Man, I’d love to be on that boat now!’”

“I’ve done a lot of photography for Laser Fleet 413, and sailed with them for five frostbite seasons. The greatest thing about frostbiting with such a good fleet of sailors is that while everyone else is taking the winter off to go skiing or snowboarding, you’re putting in the hours. When the summer season comes, you’re beating them down the racecourse. I did a Shields campaign on Wednesday nights and a few weekend regattas for about six years and I do a lot of deliveries, although I’ve scaled back on sailing to work on my business. I’ve been a sailing instructor at Sail Newport for the past eleven years, and that’s been the job that fuels my career. My main focus now is on selling fine art images to corporate offices and hotels from Maine to Key West, and one of my biggest accomplishments is a number of commissions for a large financial company in New York that has a collection of 162 framed pieces throughout their office.”

“You have to stay creative to be productive, and while it’s good to stay within your own shooting style you have to try different things. The hardest thing to do in two-dimensional art is to evoke a feeling of ‘being there.’ The three aspects to my series of work called ‘Right There’ are shooting with a wide-angle lens; immersing myself in the subject by getting very close; and making prints that are no smaller than 24 by 36. I want viewers to feel like they’re curling their toes in the sand in St. Maarten or holding onto the rod rigging and feeling the salt spray on their face. It’s a pretty big challenge, and I enjoy that.”

Matthew’s on the web at cohenphotography.com, and he can be reached at 401-662-6541 or matthew@cohenphotography.com. “You won’t find me shooting jewelry in a studio,” he asserts. “I’ve got to be out in the elements, and I’ll go the ends of the earth to capture a great photo!”


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