Alvin Langdon Coburn
Bernard Shaw by Alvin Langdon Coburn
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- Artwork Info
- About the Artist
- About this Photograph
Photogravure on period paper
Published in Camera Work
Printed in 1908
Born in Boston and eventually becoming a British citizen, Alvin Langdon Coburn (June 11, 1882 – November 23, 1966) was an early 20th-century photographer who became a key figure in the development of American pictorialism. He became the first major photographer to emphasize the visual potential of elevated viewpoints and later made some of the first completely abstract photographs – Vortographs – using a kaleidoscope-like attachment that he invented for the camera.
While still a young man, his photography attracted the attention of Alfred Stieglitz, who included Coburn’s compositions in editions of his seminal photography journal, Camera Work (Issue Nos. 3, 15, & 21). Cultural luminaries were captivated by his photographs, with George Bernard Shaw declaring in 1907 that the 24-year-old Coburn was, in his opinion, “the greatest photographer in the world”.
By 1930, as mysticism and Freemasonry gained a greater hold on Coburn’s attention, he lost almost all interest in photography. That year he destroyed practically all his life’s work – approximately 15,000 glass and film negatives – and donated his extensive collection of contemporary and historical photographs to the Royal Photographic Society.
Despite dedicating his focus towards a spiritual life after 1930, Coburn would still occasionally make photographs. These rare, later photographs are highly sought after by collectors.
Adapted from Wikipedia.com
In 1902, Alvin Langdon Coburn became a member of Alfred Stieglitz’s Photo-Session movement. In 1903, Coburn joined the British group, the Linked Ring. Fascinated by spirituality, mysticism and ritual, he came to be influenced by the Symbolist movement – especially the paintings of James McNeil Whistler – and began work on a series of atmospheric views of London. A handful of Coburn’s numerous photographs of London first appeared in a 1906 issue of Camera Workbefore being catalogued and compiled in his book, London, 1909.
This photogravure portrait of George Bernard Shaw is sourced from an original edition of Issue No. 21, January 1908, of Camera Work, Alfred Stieglitz’s ground-breaking photography journal.