Cy DeCosse
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BFA in Photography
1952

Born in North Dakota in 1929 and raised in Minnesota, DeCosse graduated from the Minneapolis School of Art (later renamed the Minneapolis College of Art and Design) and began his first job as a junior art director in the 1950s as photography was replacing illustration and becoming the language of advertising. To better understand photography, DeCosse bought his first camera, turned the coal cellar in his basement into a darkroom, and began photographing everything around him. In 1954 he won a Fulbright scholarship to help set up an advertising program at the Instituto d’Arte di Porta Romana in Florence. There, in addition to teaching advertising, he studied with Renzo Maggini, a gifted teacher who provided DeCosse’s only formal photographic instruction.

Returning to Minnesota, DeCosse resumed his advertising career at Campbell-Mithun, where he produced award-winning work for fourteen years. DeCosse formed his own firm in 1969, ideating and creating package design, print advertisements, and television commercials for such clients as General Mills, Proctor & Gamble, Heublein, and Conagra. DeCosse’s unique philosophical approach to food photography became a sought-after expertise by companies, including photographing for cookbooks, which then expanded into book publishing. Beginning in 1978, Cy DeCosse Incorporated specialized in highly photographic “how-to” books on microwave cooking, Singer sewing, Black & Decker home repair, hunting and fishing, and many others. At its height, the firm grew to more than 200 employees and saw its books printed in seventeen different languages and sold in fifty-four countries around the world.

With the sale of the company in 1994, DeCosse had time to rededicate himself to photography, finding new potential in older methods of photographic printing such as platinum, photogravure, and gum dichromate. DeCosse had already begun exploring the process of platinum printing and spent two years experimenting and perfecting this alternative technique. Keith Taylor, an accomplished photographer and platinum printer from London, joined the studio in 1996 and in 2001 the two of them began the revival of the gum dichromate technique, a process that produces a color print of extraordinary depth and richness. Given the highly painterly look of these one-of-a-kind prints, it is not surprising that DeCosse, who started out a painter, worked in watercolor, and had hand-painted the backdrops for many of his close-up still life photographs, was emboldened to teach himself the little-utilized painting technique of egg tempera. This newest creative undertaking began in 2017, and DeCosse, now approaching age ninety, is working to perfect it, teaching himself along the way.

The Many Faces of Cy DeCosse, a retrospective exhibition, is on view in MCAD's Main Gallery July 26–September 22.