The Octopus

Artist: Alvin Langdon Coburn (British, Boston, Massachusetts 1882–1966 Wales)

Date: 1912

Medium: GreatPlatinum print

Dimensions: 41.8 x 31.8 cm (16 7/16 x 12 1/2 in.)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987

Accession Number: 1987.1100.13


Couched in the soft velvety nap of the platinum paper, composed in the languid lines of Art Nouveau, and softly focused, this photograph of New York's Madison Square employs many elements of Pictorialism at its best. However, the dizzying effect of Coburn's aerial view and his fascination with the skyscraper are distinctly and precociously modern. The blend of Pictorialist technique and fresh vision was characteristic of the transitional moment when Alfred Stieglitz, Coburn, Karl Struss, and Paul Strand began to celebrate contemporary urban experience.