Alvin Langdon Coburn

(British, 1882–1966)

Gelatin silver print

Image: 20.2 x 26.4 cm (7 15/16 x 10 3/8 in.); Matted: 45.7 x 55.9 cm (18 x 22 in.)

Andrew R. and Martha Holden Jennings Fund 2004.33



The expatriate American photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, who permanently moved to London in 1912, was one of the leaders in avant-garde photography in the early 20th century. In his desire to create art that combined the physical with the spiritual, he produced an extraordinary yet tiny body of work between October 1916 and January 1917, calling the series Vortographs. In the history of the medium, these remarkable works were the first group of artistic photographs to be entirely abstract. Their subjects were reduced to the essential elements of light and form by placing a vortoscope, a triangular arrangement of mirrors, over the camera's lenses. This stunning picture is distinguished by its bold composition of ambiguous, reflected, and split shapes radiating vibrant light and energy. With such photographs, Coburn freed the camera from its obligation to represent reality, employing it instead to pursue pure pictorial invention.

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