Ever since Allen Cooley got his dad’s camera back in 2003, he’s had his sights set 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 grew up in New York, moved to Georgia in the early 2000s to earn her computer science degree at Albany State University. He set up his first studio in his apartment by taping sheets to the walls and began taking photos of local friends and talent.
A few months after graduation, he moved to Atlanta and studied photography at the 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 Representation of a Love I Don’t Completely Understandwhich he shot ten years ago, Cooley placed flowers at different stages of the life cycle in front of a black background to depict the ups and downs of relationships.
“I’m usually constrained by everything that’s going on in my life right now,” says Cooley, 37, who shoots some of his artwork on film with a Hasselblad 501c. “The flower series was the first where I moved away from photographing people.”
Today, Cooley is a highly sought-after photographer, shooting for Toni Braxton, Magic Johnson, Kevin Hart, Raven-Symoné, Keke Palmer and Lynn Whitfield. But he is still attracted to flowers.
Lately, they’ve helped him find beauty in uncertainty. In 2020, Cooley celebrated the birth of his first child, and a few months later his mother died of Covid-19 and he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. During quarantine and on days when chemotherapy was wearing him down, he picked flowers and photographed them in his English Park studio.
“I don’t have to apologize to the flowers for having to reschedule, so I decided to take pictures of the flowers,” Cooley says. “I want my art to take me away from the loss, no further. I want to make sure I don’t pass that trauma on to my daughter. I want to be able to talk about this time happily for her.
Cooley is represented by Arnika Dawkins Gallery, 4600 Cascade Road, 404-333-0312, adawkinsgallery.com.
This article originally appeared in our Spring 2022 issue of HOUSE of Atlanta Magazine.