Men of Mark. Alvin Langdon Coburn.
Men of Mark.
Men of Mark.
Men of Mark.

Men of Mark.

London: Duckworth & Co; New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1913. Small folio, tan cloth spine with beige cloth over boards, title and author gilt-stamped on upper cover. [8]–30 pp., 33 photogravure plates.

First edition of Alvin Langdon Coburn’s celebrated volume of highly evocative photogravures of authors and artists.

Coburn’s work as a portrait photographer was initially spurred in 1904 by Perriton Maxwell, editor of the Metropolitan Magazine, who—“Out of the kindness of his heart, or, perhaps, more to get rid of me than anything else”—gave Coburn a list of prominent people to photograph in Britain. The photographer first reached out to George Bernard Shaw (whose portrait opens the book), and through his friendship with Shaw met many other important figures. It became a long-term undertaking, undoubtedly both satisfying and exciting Coburn’s self-described “urge” to photograph those artists whom he admired: “I have always been deeply interested in consummation in the arts, and I think this was the chief reason why I began making photographic portraits. If I admired the writings or expressed vision of any person, I was impelled by the desire to meet and photograph him…My portraits are a recording of my appreciation of the artistic achievement of the times in which I have lived” (Coburn). To that end, this volume contains portraits of such giants as Henry James, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Max Weber, W.B. Yeats, Henri Matisse, Mark Twain, Roger Fry, Auguste Rodin, and others. Coburn “was the most important American photographer of his generation to expend significant energy on illustrating books” and “expressed rare versatility in his facility at landscape and city views, while at the same time making penetrating portraits” (The Truthful Lens, p. 37).

After receiving his first Kodak at the age of eight, Coburn rose to prominence in his late teens and by his mid-twenties had established a friendship with George Bernard Shaw, who introduced the catalogue of his solo show at the Royal Photographic Society in 1907 by calling him “one of the most accomplished and sensitive artist-photographers now living.” Coburn traveled extensively in America and Europe, and was granted membership in the British Linked Ring as well as the American Photo-Secession, both groups at the forefront of establishing and exploring photography as a fine art and including such giants as Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. He collaborated with several literary figures (including Henry James), was one of the first to experiment in semi-abstract and abstract photography (Ezra Pound called Coburn’s technique of using mirrors to fracture and duplicate images “vortography,” alluding to its Vorticist inspiration), and had important shows throughout the United States and Britain (including two solo-exhibitions at Stieglitz’s New York gallery) into the 1920s. In 1930 he was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, although by that time Coburn’s interest in mysticism, druidism, metaphysics, and freemasonry (ignited years earlier by a friendship with photographer George Davison) had come to supersede his fascination with photography.

REFERENCES: The Truthful Lens 37; Foster, Sheila J., et al. Imagining Paradise : The Richard and Ronay Menschel Library at George Eastman House, Rochester, p. 236; Coburn, Alvin Langdon, Alvin Langdon Coburn : Photographer : An Autobiography, pp. 24–42.

CONDITION: Very good, slight wear at corners, lower left corner bumped, head of spine and top edge of lower cover slightly dented, small light brown stain on lower cover, tissue guards toned, two of them with short tears, and a few others creased. Overall, an unusually clean, bright copy.

Item #4061

Price: $3,750.00

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