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George Bernard Shaw
Alvin Langdon Coburn
(British, Boston, Massachusetts 1882–1966 Wales)
Gum bichromate over platinum print
26.5 x 10.8 cm. (10 7/16 x 4 1/4 in.)
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949
Not on view
George Bernard Shaw, best known as the witty author of plays that display a rare combination of drama, comedy, and social criticism, was also a passionate amateur photographer. He began taking photographs in 1898 and became an early advocate of photography as a serious art, publishing essays on the medium, reviewing exhibitions, and contributing to ongoing technical discussions. It is partly thanks to Shaw that Coburn gained his reputation as an acclaimed portrait photographer of the British intellectual elite. During Coburn’s second visit to London, in 1904, he befriended Shaw, who introduced him to some of the most prominent literary, artistic, and political figures in Britain, including George Meredith, H. G. Wells, and Henry James. Shaw loved being photographed, and Coburn happily obliged. Here, he is rendered in strong chiaroscuro and caught in deep contemplation. Shaw’s keen attention to what lies beyond the picture edge recalls his maxim about the subjectivity of all observation: "You are the window through which you must see the world."