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Hyde Park Corner from London
Hyde Park Corner is a photogravure from Coburn's first photobook, London, a suite of etchings printed by the photographer himself. The photographs--whether showing coarse industrial areas or elegant urban spaces--present uncluttered spaces with crisp architectural forms, punctuated by people at work or leisure, usually depicted as unfocused or silhouetted figures. The folio includes images that Coburn had accumulated over five years, and they reflect his stylistic shift from the aesthetics of Pictorialism to Modernism. The later images were often taken from uncommon viewpoints and feature flattened perspective and geometric patterns. In this image, the sense of expansive space, managed environment and soft light somehow evokes a theme of urban sophistication. Tall, cultivated trees growing from the pavement diminish in scale in the receding space, while in the distance a loaded horse-drawn omnibus has stopped for passengers. Though silhouetted in the sunlight, the carriage appears soft and distant, its outlines simplified. This poetic image evokes the hazy atmosphere of a city still shrouded in smoke and fog at the turn of the 20th century, when industrial factories and millions of domestic fires burned wood and coal, contributing to a permanent pall of smoke and condensing damp air. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this image is the soft shadow beneath the foreground tree, where dim light filters through the leaves to mottle the pavement.
from Acton, A History of Photography at the University of Notre Dame: Twentieth Century (Notre Dame, 2019)