Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Vivian Maier

"Self Portrait, Undated, New York, NY," © Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection

"Undated, New York, NY," © Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection

"Late 1956, New York, NY," © Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection

"Undated, New York, NY," © Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection

"Undated, New York, NY," © Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection

"May 5, 1955, New York, NY," © Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection

"May 27, 1970, Chicago, IL," © Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection

"1959, Egypt," © Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection

Special thanks to Vivian and The Maloof Collection for their generosity.  Without their kind cooperation this blog entry would not have been possible.

Upcoming Exhibitions of Vivian Maier's work:

July 1 - July 24, 2011
London Street Photography Festival
German Gymnasium, Kings Cross
London N1C 4TB, Great Britain

Fall 2011
Howard Greenberg Gallery
41 East 57th Street
New York, NY 10022

January 2012
Merry Karnowsky Gallery
170 S. La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036

"The Life and Work of Street Photographer Vivian Maier," by Nora O'Donnell from

A LIFE IN SHADOW: The North Shore families who hired Vivian Maier as a nanny came to know a kind but eccentric woman who guarded her private life and kept a huge stash of boxes. A chance discovery after her death by a man named John Maloof has spotlighted her secret talent as a photographer and led to a growing appreciation of her vast work.

On an unremarkable day in late 2007, John Maloof, a young real-estate agent, spent some time at a local auction house, RPN Sales in Portage Park, combing through assortments of stuff—some of it junk—that had been abandoned or repossessed. A third-generation reseller, Maloof hoped to find some historical photographs for a small book about Portage Park that he was cowriting on the side. He came across a box that had been repossessed from a storage locker, and a hasty search revealed a wealth of black-and-white shots of the Loop from the 1950s and ’60s. There’s got to be something pertinent in there, he thought. So he plunked down about $400 for the box and headed home. A closer examination unearthed no scenes of Portage Park, though the box turned out to contain more than 30,000 negatives. Maloof shoved it all into his closet.

Something nagged, however—perhaps a reflex picked up from working the flea market circuit as a poor kid growing up on the West Side of Chicago. Though he knew almost nothing about photography, he eventually returned to the box and started looking through the negatives, scanning some into his computer. There was a playfulness to the moments the anonymous artist had captured: a dapper preschool boy peeking from the corner of a grimy store window; an ample rump squeezing through the wooden planks of a park bench; a man in a three-piece suit napping, supine, in the front seat of his car, his right arm masking his face from the daylight. Whoa, Maloof mused. These are really cool. Who took them?

A contact at the auction house didn’t know the photographer’s name but told Maloof that the contents of the repossessed storage locker had belonged to an elderly woman who was ill. As time passed, Maloof tracked down a handful of people who had acquired similar caches of negatives once owned by the same woman, and he bought the boxes off them. With the collection becoming expensive to maintain, this lifelong reseller did what came naturally: He cut up some of the negatives and hawked them on eBay. They proved startlingly popular—some sold for as much as $80 a pop. Maloof realized that he’d come across something special, and he determined to crack the case of the anonymous photographer.

One day in late April 2009, more than a year after he bought that first box at RPN, Maloof got a break. He found an envelope from a photo lab buried in one of the boxes. Scribbled in pencil was a name: Vivian Maier. One hit from a Google search linked to an item from the Chicago Tribune that had been posted just days before. It was the paid death notice for an 83-year-old woman: “Vivian Maier, proud native of France and Chicago resident for the last 50 years died peacefully on Monday. Second mother to John, Lane and Matthew. A free and kindred spirit who magically touched the lives of all who knew her. Always ready to give her advice, opinion or a helping hand. Movie critic and photographer extraordinaire. A truly special person who will be sorely missed but whose long and wonderful life we all celebrate and will always remember.”

After a call to the Tribune left him with a faulty address and a disconnected phone number, Maloof didn’t know where to turn. In the meantime, though, he started displaying Maier’s work on a blog, Then, in October 2009, he linked to the blog on Flickr, the photo-sharing website, and posted a question about Maier’s pictures on a discussion board devoted to street photography: “What do I do with this stuff (other than giving it to you)?”

The discussion went viral. Suggestions poured in, and websites from around the world sent traffic to his blog. (If you Google “Vivian Maier” today, you’ll get more than 18,000 results.) Maloof recognized that this was bigger than he’d thought.

He was right about that. Since his tentative online publication of a smattering of Vivian Maier’s photographs, her work has generated a fanatical following. In the past year, her photos have appeared in newspapers in Italy, Argentina, and England. There have been exhibitions in Denmark and Norway, and a showing is scheduled to open in January at the Chicago Cultural Center. Few of the pictures had ever been seen before by anyone other than Maier herself, and Maloof has only scratched the surface of what she left behind. He estimates that he’s acquired 100,000 of her negatives, and another interested collector, Jeff Goldstein, has 12,000 more (some of them displayed at Most of Maier’s photos are black and white, and many feature unposed or casual shots of people caught in action—passing moments that nonetheless possess an underlying gravity and emotion. And Maier apparently ranged far and wide with her camera—there are negatives from Los Angeles, Egypt, Bangkok, Italy, the American Southwest. The astonishing breadth and depth of Maier’s work led Maloof to pursue two questions, as alluring in their way as her captivating photographs: Who was Vivian Maier, and what explains her extraordinary vision?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

André Kertész

"My talent lies in the fact that I cannot touch a camera without expressing myself."

"I am an amateur and intend to remain one my whole life long. I attribute to photography the task of recording the real nature of things, their interior, their life. The photographer’s art is a continuous discovery which requires patience and time. A photograph draws its beauty from the truth with which it’s marked. For this very reason I refuse all the tricks of the trade and professional virtuosity which could make me betray my career. As soon as I find a subject which interests me, I leave it to the lens to record it truthfully. Look at the reporters and at the amateur photographer ! They both have only one goal; to record a memory or a document. And that is pure photography."

"The most valuable things in a life are a man's memories. And they are priceless."

"Seeing is not enough; you have to feel what you photograph."

"Eiffel Tower," 1929

"Washington Squre, Day," 1954

"Chez Mondrean," 1926

"Untitled," 1979 (Polaroid)

"Untitled," 1979 (Polaroid)

"Untitled," 1979 (Polaroid)

"Rue des Ursins," 1931

"Boulevard Raspail, Boulevard Edgar Quinet, Paris," 1952

"Feeding the Ducks in the Late Afternoon, Tisza Szalka," 1924

André Kertész Biography from Seven Decades Exhibition at The J. Paul Getty Museum:

Hungary, 1912–1925

Kertész was born in Budapest, the second of three sons in a middle-class Jewish Hungarian family. Starting in 1912, he made his first photographs in his spare time while working as a clerk at the Budapest stock exchange. As Kertész later recalled, his camera became "a little notebook, a sketchbook. I photographed things that surrounded me—human things, animals, my home, the shadows, peasants, the life around me."

While reviewing a portfolio of his early work, Kertész stated, "I photographed real life—not the way it was, but the way I felt it. This is the most important thing: not analyzing, but feeling."

Paris, 1925–1936

In the early 1920s Kertész became restless in Budapest and craved broader artistic opportunities. After three of his photographs were accepted into an important Budapest exhibition, he moved to Paris in October 1925 and registered his profession as "photo reporter." There he continued his practice of wandering the streets, photographing the world around him. In Paris, Kertész began exhibiting his work and embraced Modernist approaches to photography.

By 1926 Kertész was acutely conscious of the visual arts beyond photography. He became engaged with still lifes, a subject favored by contemporary painters and one he would explore over the course of his career.

In 1933 Kertész was asked by the publisher Querelle to contribute nude photographs to the men's magazine Le Sourire (The Smile). Since the war he had been interested in the optical distortions created by water or the chromium-plate housings of auto lamps.

For this project he used three mirrors and a camera designed to expose 9-by-12-centimeter negatives fitted with an early zoom lens. "Sometimes, just by a half-a-step left or right, all the shapes and forms have changed. I viewed the changes and stopped whenever I liked the combination of distorted body shapes," Kertész recalled.

New York, 1936–1985

In 1936 the Nazi regime was gaining strength and moving across Europe. Kertész left Paris for New York, where he was offered a job with Keystone Press Agency and where he would live for the rest of his life.

Soon after arriving in New York, Kertész spent time prowling the streets looking for fresh subjects, just as he had done in Paris. One afternoon he observed a solitary white cloud lost in a huge blue sky, dwarfed by the monolithic presence of the Rockefeller Center. Kertész said that the cloud represented himself and how he felt as a newly arrived immigrant—something subject to the prevailing winds.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sherril Schell

"Brooklyn Bridge," ca. 1930

"Eva La Galliene"

"Chinatown," ca. 1930

"Garment Center," ca. 1930

"Construction," ca. 1930

"Dome of Chrysler Building, New York City," ca. 1930

Sherril Schell Biorgraphy from Antiques and the Arts Online (from May 30, 2006 preview of Schell exhibit at The Museum of the City of New York):

Fifteen rarely seen photographs of the city's built environment, taken by a little-known but important and pioneering photographer of the 1930s, are on view at the Museum of the City of New York through June 13. "Sherril Schell: Unknown Modernist" explores the work of this member of New York's avant-garde and sheds light on his singularity among the photographers of his day.

The exhibition is being curated by Thomas H. Mellons, the museums curator of special exhibitions.

Schell (1877-1964) saw beyond the documentary function of photography and used unconventional perspectives to create striking compositions.

He often employed strong diagonal elements that served to emphasize the abstract qualities of the city's built environment. Contrasts of light and dark, actuality and reflection, sharp focus and blurriness conveyed his view of the city as a collection of images that could be arranged and manipulated to express his creative intent.

Schell's work was published in The New York Times and championed by Henry McBride, a leading art critic and proponent of modern art. Lincoln Kirstein, who founded the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art (which predated the creation of the Museum of Modern Art) also recognized Schell's genius.

Yet despite success and critical acclaim, Schell is largely overlooked today. Little is known about his life. Most likely born in the United States, he lived and worked in London in the early 1900s where he concentrated on producing photographic portraits of well-known people, including the poet Rupert Brooke.

A writer as well as a photographer, he contributed articles to journals such as The Bookman and International Studio, and often illustrated them with his own photographs. One of Schell's articles appeared in Arts and Decoration; focusing on the then-esoteric fad of incense burning, the article featured his photographs of the devices. Julien Levy, among the most influential art dealers of his time, included Schell in a 1932 group show titled "Photographs of New York by New York Photographers," alongside photographers who ultimately achieved lasting fame: Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, Ralph Steiner and Margaret Bourke-White. But by the 1950s, Schell had long vanished from the New York art scene and was living in Hollywood, Calif., where he died in 1964.

The Museum of the City of New York is at 1220 Fifth Avenue. For information, 212-534-1672 or

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dorothea Lange

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.”
“One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you'd be stricken blind.”

Dorothea Lange Biography from The J. Paul Getty Museum:

Portraits in the Southwest

Lange began her professional career in 1918 by opening her own portrait photography business in San Francisco. It was successful enough in the 1920s to support her first husband, painter Maynard Dixon (American, 1875–1946), and their two sons. Dixon's work featured a desert palette and Western subjects. Lange often accompanied him to the Southwest where he introduced her to the landscape and people he had drawn since 1900. Attempting some of her own work there, she applied her talent for portraiture to a new community.

Documenting the Depression

For her first one-person show, in 1934, Lange exhibited her recent pictures of political demonstrations, strike rallies, labor leaders, and breadline recipients. Paul Taylor (American, 1895–1984), an economics professor and labor historian, saw her show and asked her to join him in working for the state relief agency. Out of this came a second marriage to Taylor (she divorced Maynard Dixon in 1935) and a job working for the U.S. government under Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal Administration.

World War II -- Documenting the Homefront

A few months after this country entered World War II, Lange received another federal commission from the government's War Relocation Authority (WRA) to photograph the forced internment of thousands of Japanese Americans. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 calling for the assembly and internment of 110,000 people of Japanese descent in the spring of 1942. This image was made two weeks before Japanese Americans in the San Francisco area were to be assembled. As far as Lange was concerned, her assignment included documenting the life of ordinary Japanese Americans before they were interned as well as after their imprisonment.

Battling Illness -- Continuing a Career

From 1945 until about 1951 hospital care and bed rest for chronic illness meant that Lange photographed very little. During that time her sons, Daniel and John, were married and, in the 1950s, enlarged her family with grandchildren. She had tackled the subject of migrant families during the Depression, now she would focus on a young cold war family, which happened to be her own.

Three Mormon Towns, Utah, 1953

After recovering from nearly seven years of ill health and diminished energy, in 1951 Lange proposed to the picture magazine Life that she and photographer Ansel Adams do a project in Utah. Their purpose was to record the inhabitants, built environment, and surrounding landscape of three towns in southwestern Utah settled in the mid-nineteenth century by Mormons. The grandchildren of some of these pioneers were Lange's subjects during her visit to Gunlock, Toquerville, and Saint George in 1953.

Travels in Asia

In the late 1950s Lange had a chance to travel with husband Paul Taylor, who frequently visited developing countries as a consultant on agricultural and community resources. She made several official trips with him, touring Asia, South America, and the Middle East. These trips helped Lange realize her long-delayed desire to see the world and to create pictures that contain the essence of what she called "a visual life."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Pete Eckert

"I am only a tourist in the sighted world."

"Women talk about a glass ceiling. Blind folks face a glass front door. We can look into the workplace but aren’t allowed to enter. I do something else. I slip photos under the door from the world of the blind to be viewed in the light of the sighted. I view my work during the event of taking the shot in my minds eye. I 'see' each shot very clearly, only I use sound, touch, and memory. I am more of a conceptual artist than a photographer."





Pete Eckert tells how he found photograhy:

I didn’t take photography seriously until I went totally blind. I was trained in sculpture and industrial design. I have always been a visual person and planned to study architecture at Yale, but then I started to lose my sight. A doctor coolly told me I had Retinitis Pigmentosa and left the room without further comment. While listening to Dr. Dean Edell, on a San Francisco TV network, I learned I would go completely blind. A caller asked about RP. I remember the doctor’s words; they hit me like a hammer. "A person with RP gradually looses their sight until they go completely blind." There is currently no cure for RP.

I knew I had to stop driving the Moto Guzzi I love so much. Working on construction sites was also becoming dangerous. I finally came to a decision. We would move to the east coast, so I could be near my family. Thanks mom. We married in a rose garden in Elizabeth Park in West Hartford, Connecticut. I earned an MBA and a black belt in martial arts. My two fears were how to make money and how to protect myself. My MBA and black belt helped but my problems were far from over.

By the time I received my degree I was nearly blind. I had extreme tunnel vision. But I could still read. I tried to get banking jobs. I was turned down each time when I told them I was going blind. I had done well in school and met all of their requirements. They liked me fine until I told them I was losing my sight. It was my first inkling of the stigma of blindness.

Amy hated the cold Connecticut winters. Although she did look cute bundled up like a little kid. I promised to get her back home to the west coast. After visiting a friend in Sacramento I realized it was a good place for blind people. It’s flat, the streets are laid out to the compass, it has good transportation, and we like the weather. I had walked too many miles in the snow and dark to get through school and to the Dojo.
Sacramento is close enough for Amy to see her family in the bay area. We could also afford a house. I had decided buying a house in San Francisco would never happen because prices are so high and finding work had become so difficult. I found a job with the state. My department’s mission was to help the blind. But as many blind and disabled persons know well, government bureaucracies are often a hindrance instead of help. I was appalled at how the system treated the blind: the people we were supposed to help. California has an unemployment rate of about 85 percent for blind people. I moved on.

I went back into martial arts and got a guide dog named Uzu. I started to do art again. After a year I was back in the world and feeling better. My beautiful guide dog and I walked countless miles. I could spar with sighted black belts and didn’t even look blind to people any longer.

I was doing woodcuts and had purchased a wood lathe. Each day when Amy came back from work I showed her the day’s art. I was doing larger and larger woodcuts so I could feel the image. Eventually I was cutting these with an electric router. Tai Chi came in handy as I slowly made the cuttings. Each time Amy came home I would do another test print. She barely would sit down before I would be asking how it looked. I was driving her crazy. I needed a new faster media. I needed a better way to tell what I was making. The things I was making on the lathe I knew couldn’t earn a living. They were all nice. People were impressed I could even teach myself to use the lathe safely. But I needed to make a living. I tried making hard wood clocks. A few very nice sighted people helped me design a method so I could cut the gears. It was fun, but took to long to make a profit. I didn’t want to give up and just do art as a hobby.

One day I was cleaning out a drawer and found my mother in laws’ old camera. She had passed away a few years earlier. I like mechanical things, so Amy found me fooling with it. I asked her to describe the settings to me so I could figure out how to use the 1950’s Kodak. I found the camera fascinating and discovered it had an infrared setting. I thought a blind guy doing photos in a non-visible wavelength would be amusing. I was hooked. I knew nothing about film or manual cameras.

My first photography outing after a thousand questions at the camera store started it all. People liked the photos. I had found a quicker media. Again I was asking a million questions at the camera store. I have to give Camera Arts, here in Sacramento, a bunch of credit. I couldn’t have learned photography without them. I searched for photography books. But we ended up having to find them at yard sales. I tried to find photography books at the state library. But the reference computer, intended to let the blind read books, didn’t work. I made an appointment with the resource specialist and she could not make the system work. They called others and no one could help. I wonder if this computer ever worked.

I bought my own computer and talking scanner. I taught myself how to use the adaptive software. It sort of worked. It was a very finicky system, but a little is better than nothing. I could now read the precious camera books. The camera store had lent me an old medium format Mamiya flex. I loved it. I handled it so much the finish began to show wear. I returned the Mamiya to the Camera Arts store owner and apologized. She was so kind that she offered the camera to me for free. She liked my determination to learn. She said she had intended to give it to a starving student. I thanked her but explained I didn’t fit the bill. I started to look for a similar used one. After finding it I had two working basic cameras. I was having a ball.

The old cameras came with me on my nightly excursions. Uzu had to learn a new command. His command to keep street tough guys from taking my equipment was, "watch my toys." I had taught him the command "find your toy" so adding a command to protect my camera came naturally. It also helped that he looked like a big black wolf. People have tried to mug me for my camera equipment but I’ve never been hurt or lost a single piece. Uzu never hurt anyone. He just placed himself between me an the bad guys until I could get my stuff together and do the fly command I had taught him. Thanks Uzu.

Women talk about a glass ceiling. Blind folks face a glass front door. We can look into the workplace but aren’t allowed to enter. I do something else. I slip photos under the door from the world of the blind to be viewed in the light of the sighted. I view my work during the event of taking the shot in my minds eye. I “see“ each shot very clearly, only I use sound, touch, and memory. I am more of a conceptual artist than a photographer. My influences come from my past memory of art and what I now find in the world at large. I now ask to touch sculptures in museums too. That’s another long story.

I am not bound by the assumptions of the sighted or their assumed limits. The camera is another means of making art to me. In fact my drawings look like my photos, (at least the ones I made when I was sighted). There is a common thread uniting all my artwork. If you saw my old figurative sculptures you could tell. have a sort of bash and crash style. Even when I was very young and 125 pounds doing stone sculpture I started with big rocks and ended up with little ones.

I am trying to cut a new path as a blind visual artist. Sighted people don’t help me make the art. They do give me feedback before I do the final large prints. I shoot the image, develop the film, and I do the contact print. I do what I call sample prints. There is a clear dividing line. I need the feedback loop to afford making large final products. I could cut sighted people completely out of my process. I could do a write up about the event of taking the photos. The negatives, contact sheets, and write up about the event could be the final product. I like doing the dramatic large prints better. I want sighted people involved. It is a good bridge between the blind and sighted. I want to be included in the world and accepted.

What I get out of taking photos is the event not the picture. I do the large prints to get sighted people thinking. Talking with people in galleries builds a bridge between my mind’s eye and their vision of my work. Occasionally people refuse to believe I am blind. I am a visual person. I just can’t see.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Oliver Gagliani

When asked why art is important, he said, "Because it's the only thing that teaches you how to feel. Without that, you haven't got anything."

"Attic, Nevada," 1972

"Piano, Austin, Nevada," 1972

"Brick Wall with Snow, Gold Hill, Nevada," 1973

"Diamond, Bodega Bay, California," 1968

"House, Plumas Eureka S.P., California," 1962

"White Door," 1973
All  photographs posted with kind permission of The Oliver Gagliani Estate 

Gallery 1855 to Host Latest Exhibition of Oliver Gagliani’s Photography:

Gallery 1855
Davis Cemetery
820 Pole Line Road
Davis, CA, 95618

Dates:  May 1 to May 31, 2011
Opening Reception - Sunday May 8 (Mother’s Day), 2011 from 1PM to 4 PM.

Oliver Gagliani is a well known artist amongst artists, so far ahead of his time that it will be up to another generation to place him within the continuum of art history. We here at Gallery 1855 are grateful for the special opportunity to exhibit some of Gagliani’s work during the month of May. Rather than a full retrospective, we have chosen to exhibit a collection of his pieces with one consistent vision, one overarching characteristic: the artist’s demand that the viewer participate. Oliver Gagliani believed that art was not art until the viewer made it so. We at Gallery 1855 invite you to come be the bridge between the artist’s vision and art itself.

You are warmly invited to the free open house and reception on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8th from 1 P.M. to 4 P.M. The work may also be viewed Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 4 PM, between May 1st and May 31st. Please take advantage of this special opportunity.

Oliver Gagliani Biography reposted with permission from The Weston Gallery:

Oliver Gagliani (1917-2002) was an American photographer, a master of large format photography, darkroom technique, and the Zone System.

Upon seeing a retrospective of Paul Strand's work in 1945 at the San Francisco Museum of Art, he was convinced that photography could be considered fine art. Mostly self-taught, he is best known for his beautiful and haunting black and white photographs of ghost towns of the southwest.

Born in Placerville, California, Oliver studied under and worked with some of the greatest photographers of the 20th century including, Ansel Adams, Minor White, Paul Caponigro, the Westons, Paul Strand, and many others. He loved sharing his knowledge and in his later years conducted photographic workshops in Virginia City, Nevada.

“Oliver Gagliani: Scores of Abstraction at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art,” Thursday, October 25, 2007, Santa Barbara Independent by Heather Jeno reposted with permission:

Before Photoshop and other digital media programs opened up the world of synthesized enhancement, photographers relied on framing, composition, and riveting subject matter to deliver the desired image. Among the many master photographers of the pre-digital age, Oliver Gagliani possessed a particularly preternatural ability to produce complex, imaginary landscapes that to the modern eye appear as if they must be digitally enhanced. In fact, Gagliani was a purist of the straight photography he learned as a journalistic and commercial photographer, and he achieved his abstract effects through simple methods of exposure and printing.

Gagliani’s work is demanding because he requires us to reverse our typical methods of observation, forcing us first to “see” his compositions as a series of shapes, textures, and tones rather than as identifiable subjects. Through his imaginative lens, objects appear in new ways, and we are forced to reconsider and reevaluate the world around us as a landscape of unclaimed possibility.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Alvin Langdon Coburn

"My aim in photography is always to convey a mood and not to impart local information. This is not an easy matter, for the camera if left to its own devices will simply impart local information to the exclusiveness of everything else."

"Photography makes one conscious of beauty everywhere, even in the simplest things, even in what is often considered commonplace or ugly. Yet nothing is really 'ordinary’, for every fragment of the world is crowned with wonder and mystery, and a great and surprising beauty."

"I wish to state emphatically that I do not believe in any sort of handwork or manipulation on a photographic negative or print."

"The Octopus," 1912

"Theodore Roosevelt," 1907

"Grand Canyon," 1911

"House of a Thousand Windows," 1912

"Pittsburg Smoke Stacks," 1910

"Vortograph," ca. 1917

Alvin Langdon Coburn Biography from Akron Art Museum Exhibit in 1999:

Alvin Langdon Coburn: Photographs 1900 - 1924 features 147 photographs spanning Alvin Langdon Coburn's entire career, presenting an unprecedented opportunity to view the development of a child prodigy who was one of the most brilliant turn-of-the-century photographers. This exhibition runs through November 28, 1999.

"Although Coburn's name is not a household word, it should be," declared Barbara Tannenbaum, Akron Art Museum's chief curator and head of public programs. "Coburn made exquisitely beautiful photographs which represent several important firsts in art photography. He helped initiate the change in photography from pictorialism, a style which imitated painting, to modernism, a style that consciously emphasized the unique visual qualities of the camera lens. Coburn freed photography from the shackles of representation when he made some of the first abstract photographs. And, he was the first photographer to exploit the expressive potential of the aerial view."

Well traveled, schooled and read, Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966) was the product of a world that inspired, promoted and cherished his talent. He was born in Boston to a family, successful in business, which encouraged him to follow his talents for the arts. Starting in photography at eight years old, Coburn was exhibiting by age 18 at London's Royal Photographic Society alongside the giants of the time including Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. When he was 22 years old, Coburn became a member of the prestigious Photo Secession founded by Alfred Stieglitz.

The Photo Secession strived to have photography accepted as an art in its own right: each image would not be seen as a document or snapshot but as a singular object to be contemplated for the personal expression of the artist. Coburn's work was a perfect fit with the Photo Secessionists, famous for their landscapes, figure studies and portraits.

Part of the Photo Secession, a subgroup of the pictorialist movement that emphasized artificial, often romanticized pictorial qualities, Coburn was extremely adventuresome in applying pictorialism to themes as varied as portraits, cityscapes and industrial scenes. Coburn, a superb portraitist, photographed many of the notable figures of his time including Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, Ezra Pound, Henri Matisse, George Bernard Shaw and Rodin.

Around 1912 Coburn's interest in pictorialism waned as he helped develop a more modern photographic style. Focused on the modern city, Coburn exchanged the soft focus of pictorialism for sharp, clear images and experiments with abstract compositional geometry. One of only a handful of turn-of-the-century photographers who concentrated on the metropolis, he helped shape the way the urban experience was depicted for almost half of the 20th century. His aerial views of New York City, which were inspired by his experience photographing the Grand Canyon in 1911, were made at least six years before the German and Russian photographers usually credited with this innovation.

In 1916, Coburn employed a kaleidoscope-like device to make some of the earliest abstract photographs. He dubbed these Vortographs after a contemporary British movement in painting and literature. These revolutionary images emphasize the pure form on the flat picture surface, discarding altogether the representational side of photography.

Coburn was also a master printer. He employed several difficult and unusual printing practices, including the rare gum-platinum process and the exacting photogravure. Photogravure is a photomechanical process for reproducing the appearance of a continuous range of tones in a photograph. Since he wanted as many people as possible to see his work, Coburn considered the photogravure as important as an original print.

Co-existing with his interest in modernity, however, Coburn had always had a strong interest in the spiritual. In 1924, he became involved with a British comparative religious group called the Universal Order, which combined Rosicrucianism, Druidism and Freemasonry. By 1931, he had virtually abandoned photography for the study of religion and the performance of good works. Coburn remained devoted to these activities until his death in 1966.

This exhibition was organized by George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film with support from Kodak Kulturprogram, Kodak A. G. Its presentation in Akron is made possible by a generous gift from the Akron Community Foundation.