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Major retrospective of Alvin Langdon Coburn to open at George Eastman House on September 19

Only North American venue for this exhibition of work by celebrated 20th-century photographer

Rochester, N.Y., September 3, 2015—A retrospective featuring 175 works, including more than 145 photographs by Alvin Langdon Coburn as well as other related materials will open on September 19 at George Eastman House. Drawn from the collections of George Eastman House, the Royal Photographic Society, and the Museum of Modern Art, the exhibition assembles the best Coburn works from major international collections for the first time, allowing visitors to appreciate the full scope and import of this master photographer.

“Coburn is among the most celebrated and accomplished photographers of the twentieth century,” said Lisa Hostetler, Curator-in-Charge, Department of Photography, George Eastman House. “We are proud to have such a strong collection of his work at Eastman House, and we are thrilled to collaborate with FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE and curator Pamela Roberts to present this important exhibition here in the United States.”

Alvin Langdon Coburn (British, b. United States, 1882–1966) was one of the pioneers of modern photography and a key figure in the advocacy of art photography at the turn of the twentieth century. Born into a wealthy family, Coburn was introduced to the world of art photography by Fred Holland Day, a distant relative at the center of Boston’s cultural avant-garde. Over the course of his lifetime, Coburn mastered the principal photographic printing processes, from gum bichromate to platinum, as well as the art of photogravure, which allowed him to make high quality prints of his images in ink.

Coburn’s work lies at the intersection of late nineteenth-century Pictorialism and early twentieth-century avant-garde photography. He was one of the first photographers to focus on industrial and urban landscapes, moving from the romanticism that characterized Pictorialist photography to a modern precision that emphasized pure form. He was among the first to exploit the expressive potential of aerial views and to produce abstract photographs. Throughout his life, Coburn was also an outstanding portraitist, his broad social network facilitating access to the leading cultural figures of his day. During World War I, inspired by Vorticism (a British Modernist movement of the early twentieth century), Coburn constructed a device of mirrors, glass, and wood to make a series of photographs he called Vortographs. In 1917, to escape World War I, he moved from London to the artistic community based in Harlech in North Wales, and his photographic activity waned as he became absorbed in studies of Freemasonry, the Universal Order, and other forms of spiritualism.

Coburn bequeathed his photographic estate to George Eastman House before his death in 1966, making the museum’s Coburn collection the largest in the world. In addition to his photographs, objects related to Coburn’s interest in mysticism will also be on view in the exhibition.

The exhibition was curated by Pamela G. Roberts, former curator of the Royal Photographic Society. It was organized by FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE, Madrid,  in collaboration with George Eastman House. It will be on view through January 24, 2016.

Members Preview Event
Thursday, September 17 
6–8:30 p.m.
Celebrate the opening of Alvin Langdon Coburn with after-hours access to the galleries, a hands-on “make your own Vortograph” activity, tarot card readings, and live music. The event is free for Eastman House members and $15 for non-members. 

FOCUS 45 
Alvin Langdon Coburn: Opening the Doors of Perception 
Saturday, November 21 
12:15 p.m. 
Why did this internationally acclaimed photographer leave his career to explore mysticism and the occult? Associate librarian Virginia Dodier will consider this question through the examination of his personal papers and ephemera held in the museum's collection. Free for Eastman House members; included with museum general admission. To attend the talk only, admission is $6 for adults and $3 for students.