Ever since Allen Cooley picked up his father’s camera in 2003, he’s had his lens on flowers. His father used the camera to document family vacations, but Cooley used it to practice the craft, and flowers were one of his first subjects.
Cooley, who was raised in New York, moved to Georgia in the early 2000s to earn his computer science degree at Albany State University. He set up his first studio in his apartment by tacking bedsheets to the walls and started taking headshots of friends and local talent.
A few months after graduation, he relocated to Atlanta and studied photography at Savannah College of Art & Design. He says it was there that he realized photographers could have an artistic voice, and flowers became an essential part of his. In the collection Courtney–A Visual Depiction of a Love I Don’t Completely Understand, which he shot a decade ago, Cooley placed flowers at various stages in the life cycle in front of a stark black backdrop to represent the ups and downs of relationships.
“I’m usually compelled by whatever is going on in my life at the moment,” says Cooley, 37, who shoots some of his fine-art work on film with a Hasselblad 501c. “The flower series was the first where I stepped away from photographing people.”
Today, Cooley is a highly sought-after photographer, taking photos for the likes of Toni Braxton, Magic Johnson, Kevin Hart, Raven-Symoné, Keke Palmer, and Lynn Whitfield. But he’s still drawn to flowers.
Lately, they’ve helped him find beauty in uncertainty. In 2020, Cooley celebrated the birth of his first child, and, just a few months later, his mother died from Covid-19, and he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. During quarantine and on days when chemotherapy exhausted him, he picked flowers and photographed them at his English Park studio.
“I don’t have to apologize to the flowers for having to reschedule, so I leaned into taking pictures of the flowers,” says Cooley. “I want my art to take me away from loss, not further into it. I want to make sure I’m not passing that trauma down to my daughter. I want to be able to talk about this time joyfully for her.”
Cooley is represented by Arnika Dawkins Gallery, 4600 Cascade Road, 404-333-0312, adawkinsgallery.com.
This article appears in our Spring 2022 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.