Avenida Diaz Vélez al 4800, 1936 Buenos Aires
© Horacio Coppola
Unique exhibition silver gelatin print, printed 1952
The tenth child in a family of Italian immigrants, Horacio Coppola was born on July the 31st 1906 at number 3060 Calle Corrientes in Buenos Aires, in a house designed and built by his father in 1901. The young Coppola was educated at home in a style that followed a mixture of academic and South American traditions, leaving its mark on the many long years that followed. he studied music and literature, acquired a knowledge of Italian and French, and had experience of handling all manner of instruments, including the camera and wooden tripod used by his brother Armando, twenty years his senior. He felt strangely attracted to the camera, which showed, through its “ground glass lense - upside-down! - the world I saw before my eyes, the camera seeing what i was looking at”. An early initiation into the Buenos Aires of the twenties, “the years when the suburbs emerged as a literary and political urban theme”, during this period he entered fully into the cultural life of the city. While he carried on with his studies in law and Modern Languages, he also founded the first Cinema Club in Buenos Aires, the cinema being another of his great passions. These were fruitful years, when the influence of the family receded before his direct experience of the avant-garde, in a city where the words of Jorge Louis Borges, the pictures of Alfredo Guttero and the teachings of Le Corbusier came together....amidst films by Chaplin and Eisenstein, poems by Baudelaire recited by Victoria Ocampo and a chance meeting with Marinetti, the creator of Futurism.
In 1926, Coppola began making his first photographs, and when he saw the prints he had made he “ became aware of his vision”. In 1928 he managed to obtain a classical 18x24cm bellows camera and started to experiment, producing his first self-portrait and using crystal prisms between the light source and the camera to create abstractions of glass. These pictures were undoubtedly influenced by what he knew of the futurist movement. He also took his camera out into the city and made his seminal pictures of Buenos Aires at night.
His friendship with Guttero became deeper and he was persuaded by his friend to pack his bags and travel to Europe where he was captivated by his Italian homeland. He visited the museums in Berlin and Paris and their contents were to have a profound effect on his photographs. He returned to Argentina, but the draw of Europe and the avant -garde movement were too strong to resist, and he returned in 1932. He discovered through his friend Fritz Hensler that Mies van der Rohe was organising the Bauhaus in Berlin. He met Greta Stern, who was studying at the Bauhaus in Dessau, and she introduced him to Walter Peterhans, a mathematician and photographer who was in charge of the photography department in the celebrated school. He attended classes up to the school's closure in April 1933. He by then had married Greta Stern and they traveled through Europe together joining a workgroup with Ellen Rosenberg and Walter Auerbach and also frequented the circles that Karl Korsch and Bertolt Brecht moved. However,due to the increasingly anti-Semitic atmosphere, they left mainland Europe and arrived in London where he continued to make pictures.
His next stop was Paris where he worked with Christian Zervos. He also photographed Chagal and Miro amongst others and made some short films, Quai de la Seine and A Sunday on Hampstead Heath.He continued to make photographs in Paris and London over the next few months but decided due to the precarious nature of Europe to return to Argentina. He was never to return to Europe again.
Horacio Coppola is one of the last great avant-garde artists from the 20's and 30's not to have received the recognition he so justly deserves. This has been due to his reluctance to allow his work to be exhibited and sold outside his native Argentina, apart from a small collection in the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco.