Coburn died when I was five years old. He himself had been born in Boston , Massachusetts, and had fallen in love with photography while still a child himself, Luckily for him he had an older cousin who was a professional photographer, and under his influence Coburn established his career as a photographer himself. Time matters, and photography at this time must have been a thrilling artistic medium to explore the world with. With his career on course, he was fortunate to meet some of the most influential men of the times, publishing his most famous book ‘Men of Mark’ . This included gravure prints of Henri Matisse, Henry James, Auguste Rodin, Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt and Yeats. Wow!!! What a party you could have with that throng. George Bernard Shaw thought he was the best photographer ever.( Well, him and Edward Steichen) Not a bad fan base to have.
“To make satisfactory photographs of persons it is necessary for me to like them, to admire them, or at least to be interested in them. It is rather curious and difficult to exactly explain, but if I dislike my subject it is sure to come out in the resulting portrait .”And it would have done. I love the integrity of the man in that statement.
Ezra Pound was a further inspiration, introducing him to the Vorticism movement in Britain. Coburn made Britain his homeland from about 1911, and through the 1920’s onwards, he began to devote his interest and time to mysticism and freemasonry.Later in his life he met a man who changed the direction of his life completely, thrusting him into a spiritual quest that excluded photography.. In the summer of 1930 he destroyed nearly 15,000 glass and film negatives, practically a life times work. Our inner lives reflect how time changes us, and he clearly had no further desire to look backward into his past, and his early endeavours. It seems somewhat sad to consider them lost, but I admire the spirit of a man who can retain true to himself. What must have seemed important to him was to lose the allure of self aggrandisement, and holding on to them probably felt vain to him. Luckily for us he donated his extensive collection of contemporary and historical photographs to the Royal Photographic Society. He had taken some beautiful images.
The Intelligence of Flowers. Text by Maurice Maeterlinck. Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos. Illustrated by Alvin Langdon Coburn. Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, 1907.