Alvin Langdon Coburn 1882 —1966
ALVIN LANGDON COBURN
(American 1882 - 1966)
Coburn was a precursor of the Modernist movement in photography, having mastered, and improved, practically every form of photography available. For the first ten years of the twentieth century, he traveled between the USA and England and joined the 'Photo-Secession' founded by Alfred Stieglitz and in 1903 the 'Linked Ring' in Great Britain.
_____Pam Roberts, former curator of the Royal Photographic Society
Alvin Langdon Coburn began to photograph at an early age, Coburn became the youngest major member of the Photo-Secession. He skillfully made rich gum-platinum prints and also was very accomplished at the photogravure process. He created photographic landscapes, city scenes, and portraits in both America and his adopted country of England. Alvin Langdon Coburn was born on June 11, 1882, in Boston, where he later met his distant cousin F. Holland Day, who was already making pictorial photographs and who encouraged him to do the same. Coburn also studied with the New York portrait photographer Gertrude Käsebier and the painter/printmaker Arthur Wesley Dow, who imparted upon him the Japanese aesthetic of asymmetry and flat, open spaces.
Coburn began making frequent trips to Europe in 1899, where he took in the culture, met other creative photographers, and eventually exhibited regularly.
In 1900, F. Holland Day (of the Linked Ring) and Alvin Langdon Coburn organized The New School of American Photography, an exhibition at the Royal Photographic Society in London. Alfred Stieglitz regarded himself as the voice of American Photography, and this Day-Coburn effort caused ripples in the world of photography as art. Many of the same photographers exhibited as the Photo-secession at the National Arts Club in New York (1902); a show that was organized by Alfred Stieglitz.
In 1902, he opened a portrait studio on New York's Fifth Avenue and a year later hung a one-person exhibition of his work at the Camera Club of New York. Stieglitz included twenty-six photogravures in Camera Work by Alvin Langdon Coburn, one of the best represented photographers, and gave him solo shows at the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (which became the famous 291) in 1907 and 1909.
By 1907 Coburn was so well established in his career that Shaw called him "the greatest photographer in the world," although he was only 24 years old at the time. He continued his success by having a one-man show at Stieglitz's prestigious Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession in New York and by organizing an international exhibition of photography at the New English Art Galleries in London. At the request of American art collector Charles Lang Freer, Coburn briefly returned to the U.S. so he could photograph Freer's large collection of oriental art and Whistler prints. Coburn became captivated with the "exotic" style of the oriental artists, and it began to have an influence in both his thinking and his photography.
In 1909, after the second of the exhibitions at Stieglitz' Galleries of the Photo-Secession, Coburn moved to the Hammersmith section of London and set up two presses in his home studio in order to print his own photogravures.
In 1910 the Photo-Secession organized an international exhibition of 600 photographs at the Albright Art Gallery (now Albright-Knox Art Gallery), Buffalo, NY. In that year a schism with American members of the Linked Ring led to its dissolution, and although George Davison, Malcolm Arbuthnot and Alvin Langdon Coburn organized an exhibition of the London Secession in 1911.
Not only were Coburn's photographs actively shown in the American sphere to artists and collectors cluster about Alfred Stieglitz , and subscribers to Camera Work (vols #3, 6, 8, 15, 21, 28 and 33) but his works had international resonance thru the several books illustrated with his works in the pre 1913 period. Due to his interest in printing and publishing and his skill with the camera, Coburn's imagery was widely used as illustrations in high-quality books. The Novels of Henry James (London, 1907-1909), for instance, included frontispieces by him in each of its twenty-four volumes. Coburn's gravures illustrated The Door in the Wall (1911) by H. G. Wells, and were the features of his own publications London (1909), New York (1910), Men of Mark (1913). (His final publication, More Men of Mark followed in 1922.)
Of the 473 photographs published in Camera Work during its fifteen-year existence, 357 were the work of just fourteen photographers: Stieglitz, Steichen, Frank Eugene, Clarence H. White, Alvin Langdon Coburn, J. Craig Annan, Hill & Adamson, Baron Adolf de Meyer, Heinrich Kühn, George Seeley, Paul Strand, Robert Demachy, Gertrude Käsebier and Anne Brigman. 26 were from photographs of works by Alvin Langdon Coburn.
Coburn collected work by other photographers and in 1915 used some of it in an exhibition he organized for the Albright Art Gallery (Buffalo, New York) called Old Masters of Photography that included Hill and Adamson, Julia Margaret Cameron, and two other British photographers. Fifteen years later, he donated his collection to the Royal Photographic Society.
In 1915, Coburn exhibited watercolors which Ezra Pound was quick to damn. In 1917, Coburn made an innovative series of modernist pictures termed "vortographs," that were abstract, cubist, and futuristic, inspired, in part, by his interaction with the poet Ezra Pound.
Photographs by Coburn are in the Getty Museum, Musee d'Orsay, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Cleveland Museum of Art, Royal Photographic Collection and George Eastman House/The International Museum of Photography.
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