Jerm Cohen Gives The PAPER Staff An Emoji Makeover


As anyone who follows Brooklyn-based photographer Jerm Cohen on Twitter can tell you, he's a big fan of the emoji. Like Cohen's photography, emojis are a universal short hand that say a lot without words. Rarely, however, do those two worlds meet.

The Sprout by HP immersive computing platform provided the perfect opportunity to bridge the gap between his real world subject matter and the universal digital language of the emoji. Using the creative computing platform that Cohen has helpfully deemed "Photoshop for your fingers" and Paper's own staff as his subject matter, the photographer finally united man and emoji.

How did the Paper staff become the subject matter of the photoshoot? Were they hesitant to get in front of the camera?

The staff pitched the idea to me, and I thought it would be cool opportunity to bridge the gap between emojis and animation, something I've wanted to do for a minute. I photographed five humans and two puppies at Paper. Oskar -- a puppy -- seemed a little intimidated by the flash.  

Judging by your Twitter feed, you're pretty pro-emoji. Seeing as how your were asking everyone's favorite, I'm curious which one you would have picked for yourself.

Emojis have become a universal language for young people in the internet age. They're the new hieroglyphics. When the aliens come back to see how we ruined their pyramids they'll at least be happy to know that we used their writing system years later. This generation is more visual than ever with all of the endless amounts of media for us to take in, so its just natural to type the pizza emoji with a question mark in lieu of saying 'do you wanna grab a slice'?  (it's just too many syllables, man.) Pyramids. Aliens. You follow me [[@jerm_cohen]]?

Real quick -- top five dream photography subjects and their corresponding emojis.

Bill Nye - Microscope emoji.
Steve Balmer- Basketball/money bags emojis.
Drake- sushi emoji, "HYFR."  Also praying hands emoji. 
Natalie Portman (from Garden State) with every colored heart emoji there is.
Rob Ford- Literally any emoji.

The thing I've really appreciated about the process was the opportunity it's afforded artists to combine the digital with real world objects. Is that notion you find yourself exploring in your work?

For sure. With the emoji portraits I really wanted a way to further explore this goofy side of internet memes in a more human way, and finding everyone's signature emoji became kind of like a haiku - very consolidated, lots of reworking and finding the right way to display a certain facial expression as like I don't know, a watermelon. But who wants to be a watermelon emoji? So then I had to rethink what that person wanted to be emotionally and it became this entire anxious obsession with getting it right and showing someone how I perceived them in all of their spontaneity. 

As someone who I imagine works plenty with digital tools like Photoshop in the post-production process, how did you find the experience of creating works with Sprout?

Sprout has allowed me to work in a different way I didn't know was possible. There's a chance it may bring photography back to its roots in the sense of it being so hands on, and yet be so futuristic. I see Sprout as Photoshop for your fingers, with a badass 3D scanner.

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