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Alvin Langdon Coburn

Biographies
Alvin Langdon Coburn

*  1882 Boston
† 1966 Rhos-on-Sea/Wales


Alvin Langdon Coburn already attended to photography at his relative Fred Hollands Day's home in New York in 1898. During a trip through Europe with a longer stay in London, he was able to celebrate his first success in participating in an exhibition. Further he was able to contact English artists and intellectuals like Frederick H. Evans, Frank Eugene Smith and Robert Demachy through the intervention of Fred Holland Day and George Bernard Shaw. In 1901/02 Coburn settled in New York as a freelance photograph. He got acquainted with Alfred Stieglitz and was one of the co-founders of the ‚Photo-Secession'. At first Coburn worked as a portrait photograph, who portrayed et al. Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, Henri Matisse or William Butler Yeats. He published these portraits in ‚Men of Mark' and ‚More Men of Mark' in 1913 and 1922. Besides he attended to eastern cultures and comparing religious studies. Especially through the intensive dealing with Japanese paintings and watercolours and the works of James McNeil Whistler, portraits, city and landscape shots in which the mood and atmosphere were amphasized. Coburn was less interested in focus and detailed rendering and he worked with soft-focus and cameras without lenses. In 1912 he photographed down from skyscrapers in New York and that way he created works with more detail focus, without horizon line and with a flattened perspective. The same year Coburn moved to England. Through Ezra Pound he got acquainted with English cubists, the so-called ‚Vorticists'. Inspired by these artists, he made his ‚Vortographs' in 1916, in which he achieved a cubistic shattering of forms with the help of a mirror prism in front of the camera, the so-called ‚vortoscope'. These kaleidoscope-like pictures were counted among the earliest abstract photographs. From 1918 on he abandoned professional photography. Until his death he mainly attended to freemasonry, spiritualism and druids and rarely photographed. Coburn's work was accompanied by numerous publications of photographs and essays in photo journals like ‚Camera Work' and books. Coburn is regarded as an important representative of pictorialsm and as a pioneer of abstract photography.