If you ask Mik Cooper ’14 how she got into photography, she’ll tell you it was mostly by chance. At age 13, her father gave her his 35 mm film camera—a relic from the ’70s.
“From there I just started… developing photos and printing,” she said.
She started printing in her high school’s darkroom, working exclusively with black and white film. Then, she began to take darkroom classes at school, and later spent a few summers taking courses at the International Center for Photography in New York.
Around the same time she got her camera, Cooper found herself with a copy of “American Prospects” by Joel Sternfeld—a pivotal work in contemporary photography published in 1987. She has found that looking at other artists’ work was the best way to learn the craft.
“I tried to get my hands on as many photo books as I could,” she said. “It was kind of whatever was at my fingertips.”
A New York City native, Cooper began her own career with street photography. Her early work focused largely on abandoned spaces with heavy graffiti. While these areas still remain a theme in her work, she has started to incorporate more people as well. She has also expanded to shooting in digital and color.
Currently, Cooper is working on a photo series called “Vacationland,” which explores popular vacation spots in Maine during the off-season.
Cooper depicts “the times of year that people don’t think about, like winter in a state that draws so many people during the summer months.” The series is ongoing, and many of the photos that Cooper has taken so far feature vacant motels and empty swimming pools.
Next, as a project for her Public Art class taught by A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Art Mark Wethli, she’s planning to do a photo series on the 7-Eleven in Brunswick. So far, she’s unsure of the direction that the project will take, but knows that she wants to be there at night to capture the interactions of Bowdoin students and people from town in a shared space.
Cooper doesn’t limit herself to photography, occasionally working in collage and graphic design.
For her Public Art course, she submitted a proposal to the Brunswick Public Art Committee (BPAC) for a mural to go on the 60 by 100 foot blank wall of Fort Andross facing Route 1.
BPAC has set a tentative budget of $30,000 for the mural. Cooper’s proposed composition features a factory worker and the Androscoggin River’s famed swinging bridge in commemoration of the building’s previous use as a textile mill.
Cooper, along with classmate Fabiola Navarrete ’14 and other local artists, has been named a semifinalist in BPAC’s competition.
Despite her successes, Cooper says that there are definite challenges in being an artist. One is simply “justifying that this is something [she] should be doing.”
“I’m a visual arts major and I feel like I constantly question whether or not I should be a visual arts major,” she says.
Upon arriving at Bowdoin, she says she had no plans to major in Visual Arts despite the fact that photography had played an important role in her life.
However, once she got here, she, “honestly couldn’t imagine taking anything but art courses.”
“One of the challenging things is doubting yourself,” she says.
Despite the difficulties, Cooper has no plans to stray from her passions.
“I know that I want to stay creative and do something that is within the creative world,” she says. “Whatever I end up doing, I want to go to work every day and have it not feel like work.”