Helen Maurene Cooper

Helen Maurene Cooper is another photographer that my tutor suggested I look at with regards usage of text and imagery. The specific body of work she was referencing is Cooper’s book Paint and Polish. It is a project about specialty minority-owned nail salons in Chicago’s West Side. The book features  essays and oral histories in the form of conversations with the nail salon owners and artists. She found that this was a community of mothers and daughters “connected by both birth and mentorship, who have found long-term financial stability through craftsmanship and entrepreneurship” (NewCityArt).

I have not managed to find any other online sources featuring this book other than the link that my tutor sent me. Click on the picture of the publication to access a few pages inside.

Paint and Polish by Helen Maurene Cooper

Cooper’s captions are flipped 90 degree and are vertically oriented in the margins of the pages. On the pages where she doesn’t have a full bleed image she employs a margin of approximately 1 or 2 inches to accommodate the caption. On full bleed pages the text is simply overlaid over the image. Of course it is obvious that the text orientation is mimicking the long nails that the subjects are displaying. It seems that most of the captions consist of the names of the various nail salons, but occasionally there is a smaller, longer line of text below the salon name, but unfortunately I was not able to discern what this was referring to. She uses black as a background colour for the margins and text pages and this makes the text pop.

In the essays and conversations sections, the text is orientated normally. She uses a sans-serif font throughout the book. On some of the pages she has created a transparency overlay effect with her text, in that the colour of the text varies throughout the page, echoing the vibrancy of the nail art featured alongside. I do have to wonder though, if that would affect the ease of readability of the text.

Paint and Polish by Helen Maurene Cooper

I would expect that the pages are glossy as well as this would emphasis the vibrancy of the photographs. The photos that I have managed to view are awash with colours and the closeups are incredibly detailed. I feel like reaching out and touching the decorations on the nails. Looking at this body of work though, makes me realise that the way text is used in each project is vital to the overall message the photographer wants to convey. Where text is needed or used with images it should be carefully planned – the entire look and feel should be consistent and enhance  and not detract or overwhelm the images.

Reference List

Cooper, Helen Maurene (2017) Paint and Polish [online] Onomatopee. Available at: http://www.onomatopee.net/project.php?progID=3aeacd7195c415e05a925c68cb7b9f50 [Accessed 12 May, 2017]

Rigou, Vasia Nailing It, Chicago Stylehttp://art.newcity.com/2017/02/02/nailing-it-chicago-style/ [online] NewCityArt. Available at: [Accessed 12 May, 2017]



4 thoughts on “Helen Maurene Cooper”

  1. Interesting contrast with Karen Knorr’s work. Just a thought as well – those really long nails must make it almost impossible to do any ‘housework’ which links me back to Karen Knorr’s lady in the photograph somehow.
    Are you going to get the book?


    1. I can’t imagine doing anything productive in those nails. Haven’t thought about getting the book yet. My bookshelves are rather overflowing at the moment so need to do some reorganization before I can indulge again.


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