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Alvin Langdon Coburn: A man of Mark and Mistery. John Dorfman for Arts and Antiques magazine

Alvin Langdon Coburn, a master of Pictorialist and modernist photography, has been less widely known than he deserves, but a comprehensive traveling retrospective aims to change that.

The photographic career of Alvin Langdon Coburn appears before our eyes like a brief time exposure through a fast lens. The shutter opens, showing a decade and a half of brilliant achievement and equally brilliant fame, and then snaps shut again as the artist stages his own disappearance from the art world. From the first years of the 20th century until the end of World War I, Coburn made some of the most innovative photographs of the era-a transitional time when late 19th-century Pictorialism was yielding to modernism. (Coburn, who always had one eye on the history of his medium and the other on its future, was comfortable with both approaches and produced a body of work that in many ways unified them.) Not only that, he was a public figure in London, a leader and propagandist for the new photography who gathered a circle of disciples around him even though he was only in his twenties. Coburn was also in demand as a celebrity portraitist-cultural luminaries including George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Auguste Rodin, and Igor Stravinsky trooped through his studio, glad to let this young émigré from Boston have his way with their likenesses. He eventually compiled the results and published them in a book titled Men of Mark (1913).

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