Ira Cohen

February 3, 1935- April 25, 2011

Ira Cohen was an “electronic multimedia shaman” who has travelled with those in the Beat Generation, but who remains a less talked-about, universal visionary and solider–across time, space, dimension, and light. His sashays into other cultures have brought us great and sometimes shocking photographs from the “other side”. His works with mylar photography brought the word home. He has photographed Jimi Hendrix, Herbert Huncke, and myriad of others in strange twisting colors.

iracohenHe has published people like Gregory Corso and Angus MacLise in his rice-paper presses. A complete artistic accomplishment, bibliography, and biography of Ira–as well as articles and artwork–is at Big Bridge Magazine. With permissions, I’ve excerpted a bio here.

He uses phrases like: “Electronic/Multimedia/Shamanism” and Akashic Record and they are cool names if you know what they mean or can get past them. He is not a “Beat” and resents association with the Beats though he has been called “post-beat” which is important for our knowledge. But I see him as being in the heart and belly of the 60’s doing the real work–camera, pen, dope, exploration of mysticism, a multi-faceted phenomenological mystic with real visionary powers. And I want to open people up to him. Bring them through a friendly door and then let them descend into Ira’s world without knowing it is happening, and then finally find themselves in this mystic paradise of life and death, his “revolving door”. And then ask themselves “how in the world could I have not known Ira Cohen?” Or have not known how key he is and was to the understanding of the old and the new, the hallucinatory mind-expanding layers of reality that frighten and amuse us, the panorama of the traveling circus of all physical and non-physical things. Cohen is a true and unquestionable original innovator, friend of Gysin, Burroughs, Bowles, and Charles Henri Ford, the absolute geniuses of transformation, transmigration, and the cosmic joke. And then when the audience walks away they will say, where is that monument to Ira Cohen, the one we built for Rimbaud and Baudelaire, for Burroughs and Valery, for Genet and Gertrude Stein. Ira Cohen must be made accessible! But he has made it absolutely impossible to penetrate the organic construct of his spirit, without running the risk that you will sell him out in the process–or maybe not. Maybe something gentle to begin with, a pale lavender, a dash of blue and fluff of white, then the slow spinning of Gods and Gurus and Shamans and Mythologies, the painted faces, deformed limbs, the broken erections, the flaming corpse of his dearest friend Angus MacLise and then settling everyone down to say: Hey, it’s alright. There is life, laughter, love and humanity in these strange visions, no need to come down from your trip, be cool with it, it is the inside of a beetle’s shell, life in a termite nest, air rushing through the lungs and jaws of a lion, a hoot!
– Michael Rothenberg

1935: Born to deaf parents; learned to spell on his fingers when he was one.

1964: Edited and published GNAOUA in Tangier featuring William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Jack Smith and Irving Rosenthal.

1966-1970: Started the Universal Mutant Repertory Company and became “The Father of Mylar Photography,” making celebrated photographs in bendable mirrors of Jimi Hendrix, Charles Ludlam, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Robert LaVigne, etc.
1966: Brought out The Hashish Cookbook under the name of Panama Rose, and Jilala, an LP record of Moroccan Trance Music. Wrote The Goblet of Dreams for Playboy Magazine.

1968: Directed and starred in the award winning film The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda. Appeared in Jack Smith’s Reefers of Technicolor Island. Produced Paradise Now in Amerika, a film of the Living Theater’s historic 1968 American tour.

1970s: Went to Kathmandu and started the Starstreams Poetry Series under the Bardo Matrix imprint, publishing on rice paper the work of Gregory Corso, Charles Henri Ford, Angus MacLise and Paul Bowles (among others). Also published his own work including Poems From The Cosmic Crypt, Seven Marvels and Gilded Splinters.

1980-1985: Three photos by Ira Cohen (of Jules Deelder, William Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg) were produced as part of a limited-edition silkscreen series (1980-1993) by Kirke Wilson, and published by Ins & Outs Press, Amsterdam, Holland. Ira and Kirke Wilson later collaborated independently on an Akashic Silkscreen Edition print, a portrait of Charles Henri Ford from Ira’s photograph. Ins & Outs Press also published a series of postcards, which included many of Ira’s photographs, most notably the Bandaged Poets series.

1980 to present: Moved back to New York.

Photographic exhibitions worldwide include: Kathmandu Portfolio, The Bandaged Poet Series, Kings with Straw Mats, Dangerous Visions, Retrospectacle, About Faces (with Carol Beckwith), New York Slings hots, From The Mylar Chamber, a two-man show at the Lessing Gallery in NYC with Man Ray, a two-man show at Space Time Light New York) with Jack Micheline, etc. Photographs have appeared in The London Sunday Times, Avant Garde, LIFE Magazine, Facade Paris), Nexus, Nieuwe Revue (Amsterdam), Caliban, etc.

Galleries include: Wildfire Gallery (Amsterdam), Photo Boutique (New York), ART (New York), October Gallery (London), Visionary Gallery New York), Deer Gallery (New York), Susan Cooper Gallery (Woodstock, NY), TAM TAM Gallery (Prague), Caravan of Dreams (Ft. Worth, TX), Varia Theater (Brussels), Nul Gallery (Amsterdam), Merlin Theater (Budapest), TB Institute (Tokyo), Anya Gosseln Gallery (Dublin), Gallery of Photography (Dublin), Plateau (Akashic Weekend, Brussels)

He has photographed many book and record covers including: John McLaughlin’s Devotion and Spirit’s The 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. Recently, he has made photographs for Bill Laswell and Axiom Records, including Blues in the East. A silk-screen edition of a Mylar portrait of Jimi Hendrix, called Ref1ections, was also used on the recent CD The Ultimate Experience. Also did photos for Pharoah Sanders’ CD Message From Home (Verve) 1996

He has exhibited photographs of Southern Ethiopia and produced The Goblet of Dreams (Marrakesh 1987)

1986-1995: Uncountable poetry readings from Okinawa to San Francisco. He has also been a featured reader in Paris (Paysage du Nord-Ouest, Brussels John Cage Tribute), Prague, Portland (Artquake) and Texas (Mandalay Poetry Festival).

He appeared in Dublin with the Burroughs-Gysin Here to Go Show.

Contributing Editor to: Ins & Outs (Amsterdam), Third Rail (Los Angeles), Ignite (New York), Nexus (Dayton, OH), XPress (Bohemia, NY) 15 Minutes (St. Louis), Growing Hand (San Francisco). Edited Jack Smith’s Historical Treasures for Hanuman Books. Co-edited The Great Society with Bobby Richkin. Published Petroleum Petroleum by Gustav Meyrink (Akashic Bulletin #1, 1991).

Books of Poetry: The Stauffenberg Cycle and Other Poems (Holland), From the Divan of Petra Vogt (Rotterdam), On Feet of Gold (Synergetic Press), Media Shamans Ratio 3 (with Gerard Malanga and Angus MacLise, Temple Press, England). Also, a CD of readings: The Majoon Traveler (with music by Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Moroccan trance music, etc., Sub Rosa, Belgium). Kaliban und Andere Gedichte (Altaquito Press, Gottingen)

President of The Akashic Record, a non-profit corporation dedicated to publishing and preserving sacred materials, lost scenarios, the hidden meaning of the hidden meaning. Staged at The Kitchen, NY, in collaboration with Sylvie Degiez and Wayne Lopes (Cosmic Legends, Gift of Eagle) an Akashic Event, ORFEO: The $500 Opera, based on the work of Angus MacLise. In May, 1995, he edited an Akashic Issue for Broadshirt, a magazine on a T-shirt designed by Phyllis Segura, with over twenty contributors including Paul Bowles, Brion Gysin, Judith Malina, etc.

Contributing Editor and Photographer, NY Black Book 1997-99 NYC. Performed with John Zorn Radical Jewish Culture Group at Lincoln Center December 1995, NY. Collaborated with Nadine Ganase Dance Company on Crossing the Border, a multimedia performance from 1996-99 in Brussels, Paris, Glasgow, Amiens, Hamburg, Hanover, etc. Audio cassette of Crossing the Border, readings by Ira Cohen and music by Philippe Franck (available from Transcultures). Reading at St. Mark’s Poetry Project with Gerard Malanga Feb. 12,1997.

Jilala, CD release of historic 1966 recording with new material (Baraka).

Kings with Straw Mats, video documentary of the Hardwar Kumbh Mela, 1986 Mystic Fire Video, 1998). Online photo gallery ( Ira Cohen Portraits of India.Minbad Sinbad, a book of writings and photos dealing with Morocco published in French (Didier Devillez, Brussels, 1998).

1998: Regular live broadcast bi-weekly on Internet called The Majoon Traveler (

1999: Photographic collaboration with Allan Graubard for his poem Fragments from Nomad Days

October 1999 screening of The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda at the Whitney Museum, NYC

Release of Angus MacLise CD The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda sound track (Siltbreeze) A Book of photographs to be published in 2000 by Kargo (Paris).

A special symposium on the work of Ira Cohen to be held in Japan under the auspices of Electric Rexroth and High Moon Noon in 2001.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *