Lens crafter: Tod Cohen chronicles families

"Once you're a parent, you have different radar," says Tod Cohen– which may explain why the 39-year-old father of two has focused on families in developing his unique style of photography.

A former newspaper photographer, Cohen brings a photojournalist's eye to the camera even for weddings or portraits. He calls his concept "A Day in the Life," evoking the popular series of coffee-table books produced by groups of photojournalists dispatched to capture the essence of a country on a particular day.

Rather than turning out traditional family portraits in which everyone dresses up, strikes a charming pose, and says "cheese," Cohen creates a collection of images that tell a story about the family at a particular time in their lives. By hanging out in the background– at the house, the office, the soccer field, wherever he needs to go to get the photos– Cohen catches the spirit of the day and the life.

Cohen is so captivated by the documentary approach that he hasn't confined his "day-in-the-life" projects to the nuclear family. He takes his camera to schools– at the Charlottesville Waldorf School, he's been documenting a day in what is now the third-grade class for the past three years. In the kindergarten at the school, he's also been candid in his approach to traditional school mug shots. And he just finished a project at Tandem Friends School where he snapped images of a typical day that administrators will use for development and recruitment purposes.

Cohen has an eye for what makes a photo expressive, according to Melanie Small whose son is in the third-grade class at the Waldorf School. "He seems to be able to blend in and be unobtrusive, and his pictures show it. The gestures and facial expressions... he can capture what's most natural in the children," she says.

With such an artistic vision, it's not surprising that a collection of Cohen's prints is making the rounds at local galleries. Images from the Waldorf School and some family photos were displayed at Gravity Lounge during March. ACAC downtown hosts the exhibit through May; it migrates to the lobby at the UVA Medical Center for the summer.

Cohen has also collaborated with Latifa Berry Kropf, a teacher at Congregation Beth Israel preschool, on a series of children's picture books portraying the students as they learn about various Jewish traditions.

"Kids grow up so fast," says Cohen, sounding like a sentimental parent. "It's such a joy to capture those fleeting moments– a child clutching the stuffed animal he just couldn't let go of... breakfast in the family's first house– and preserve that moment so it lives on even after it's over."

Tod Cohen


Jae-Yeon Yoo, Claire Bradham, and Sara Vogelgesang (from left to right) are all students at the Charlottesville Waldorf School



Read more on: photography