St. Paul's from Ludgate Circus, London
16.5 x 22.7 cm
Poised at a crucial turning point in the history of photography, representing the “transition from pictorialism to modernism, from 19th- to 20th-century photography,” the work of Alvin Langdon Coburn illuminates “the concern of the more advanced pictorialist with ‘modern’ subjects, namely the 20th-century city—a shift in attitude that triggered the final push towards photographic modernism” (Parr & Badger I:74). Having learned how to print photogravures at London’s School of Photo-Engraving, Alvin Coburn sought to perfect the process by setting up his own copperplate printing presses. London, his magnificent first book of photography, features “20 luscious hand-pulled photogravures with black edges, tipped in on heavy gray marbled paper. Coburn made all of the gravures himself: etching on various papers until he got the print he wanted, and then supervising the entire print run. George Bernard Shaw wrote a foreword to London that the publisher for some reason declined to publish: ‘This collection of photographs of London has been in preparation by Mr. Coburn for the past five years; but technically they represent the latest development of his art” (Roth, 38).
In Coburn’s luminous photogravures of his own photographs, such as “his famous view of St. Paul’s,” we see a “cloud of smoke that… is a characteristic element” in his work (Parr & Badger I:74). A key member of Alfred Stieglitz’ Photo-Secession and a friend of many Cubists, “Coburn had one foot in the 19th century and one foot in the 20th century… Coburn’s London, for instance… depicts London—Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park Corner, Waterloo Bridge, Kingsway, Saint Paul’s Cathedral—through a soft-focus painterly haze… Coburn used the transitory medium of photography to displace time, to arrest and thereby eternalize the current moment” (Roth, 6, 38). With introduction by Hilaire Belloc. source