Hailed as a countercultural icon, the filmmaker and photographer Ira Cohen used his art to “play with another self”, often through the lens of hallucinogenic explorations. A new book brings together his visual experiments of the mind. 

Sometimes with art—and indeed with many other things—it’s the ideas that appear to be the simplest in process that produce the most profound effects. Such was the case with William S. Burroughs and artist Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine, an illuminated, spinning perforated paper tube that aimed to induce a dreamlike state in viewers sat directly in front of it, eyes closed, using light waves emitted at between eight and thirteen hertz that mimic the brain’s alpha waves.

This simple mechanism, used for its supposed transformative qualities, was shared by peer and friend of Burroughs Ira Cohen, who created the “Mylar Chamber” from his loft studio in New York. The name might sound pretty esoteric; but “Mylar” is in fact just another term for polyester film or plastic sheeting. 

Cohen worked across poetry, photography and filmmaking; he made a name for himself through a series of images shot between 1968 and 1971 in his aforementioned chamber. The room used boards hung with reflective Mylar film, created with artist and set designer Robert LaVigne. Among Cohen’s impressively glittering list of chamber subjects were the likes of Jimi Hendrix, film director Alejandro Jodorowsky, actress Petra Vogt and Burroughs himself. Cohen’s direction for all his guests was simply to use the space as somewhere to “play with another self”; and in their doing so, he created an entire original, utterly captivating mode of portraiture.

A beautiful new publication from Artbook draws together Cohen’s work from the series, presenting, as Life Magazine put it, his portrayal of the “euphoric distortions of hallucinogenics”. – Read the full article at Elephant