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March 30, 2022

Two Rare Color Photographs of Mark Twain Late in His Life in 1908

Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882–1966) was an early 20th century photographer who became a key figure in the development of American pictorialism. He became the first major photographer to emphasize the visual potential of elevated viewpoints and later made some of the first completely abstract photographs.

The years 1906–07 were some of the most prolific and important for Coburn. He began 1906 by having one-man shows at the Royal Photographic Society and at the Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association. In July five more gravures were published in Camera Work (No. 15). At the same time he began to study photogravure printing at the London County Council School of Photo-Engraving. It was during this time that Coburn made one of his most famous portraits, that of George Bernard Shaw posing nude as Rodin’s The Thinker.

In the summer he cruised round the Mediterranean and traveled to Paris, Rome and Venice in the fall while working on frontispieces for an American edition of Henry James’ novels. While in Paris he saw Steichen’s Autochrome color photographs and learned the process from him. Here, Mark Twain was photographed in color by Alvin Langdon Coburn using the newly created Autochrome system in 1908:

Photograph of Mark Twain late in his life, 1908.

Mark Twain photographed wearing his Oxford University Academic robes at his home in Redding, Connecticut, 1908.




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