‘I LOVED TO PHOTOGRAPH THE GREAT CITY’

London … with an Introduction by Hilaire Belloc.

London, Duckworth; New York, Brentano’s, [1909].

Folio, pp. 21, [3, blank], with 20 photogravures tipped on to mottled grey card; with the half-title; a very good copy, with excellent pulls of the gravures, in the original quarter green roan and drab boards, front cover lettered gilt; spine and joints worn and with some damage, corners bumped; with two large fragments of the original printed dustjacket – covers and turn-ins, edges chipped.

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First edition of Coburn’s first book, with twenty photogravures hand-pulled from his own press in Hammersmith.

‘For three years from 1906 onward, whenever I was in London I used to go twice a week to learn the process of photogravure at the London County Council School of Photo-Engraving’ (Alvin Langdon Coburn, Photographer, an Autobiography). In 1909, in his new house ‘Thameside’ in Hammersmith, ‘I set up two printing presses in addition to studio and darkroom … So far my photographs had been published only in other people’s books and in magazines, but later this year, 1909, appeared my book London with twenty plates … I prepared the printing plates myself … and pulled proofs on various grades of paper until I had a specimen for my printer to follow’. The papers used are of several textures and tints, chosen to best render the ‘unusual vistas’ of Coburn’s favourite city.

Coburn had been in London on and off since 1904, when he had begun the series of portraits that would result in Men of Mark. One of his earliest sitters was George Bernard Shaw, who became a close friend and wrote an introduction to London – it was rejected by Duckworth in favour of Belloc’s more impersonal potted history. A year later Coburn published his New York in an identical format. The cityscapes in these two works, impressionistic but tending towards abstraction, show how pictorialism and modernism can have suprising conjunctions.

The Book of 101 Books, pp. 38-9.

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