Horacio Coppola

Horacio Coppola (1906-2012) was an Argentinian photographer who documented the gritty dynamism of his hometown of Buenos Aires in the 1930s through stunning black-and-white photos that engaged viewers with their vertigo-inducing angles and experimental cropping. The 10th child in a family of Italian immigrants, Coppola was initially educated at home in a style that followed a mixture of academic and South American traditions. He continued on to study Law and Modern Languages in Buenos Aires after an early initiation into the university.


Coppola became fully emerged into the cultural life of the city 'the years when the suburbs emerged as a literary and political urban theme.' During his studies, he became the founding member of the Buenos Aires first Cinema Club, 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 Luis Borges, the pictures of Alfredo Guttero and the teachings of Le Corbusier came together....amidst films by Charlie Chaplin and Sergei Eisenstein, poems by Charles Baudelaire recited by Victoria Ocampo and a chance meeting with Filippo Thommaso Marinetti, founder of the Futurist movement.


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. Around the same time, Coppola also took his camera out into the city and made his seminal pictures of Buenos Aires at night.


He first received recognition for his work when writer Jorge Luis Borges used his images to illustrate the biography Evaristo Carriego (1930). Coppola subsequently travelled to Europe, where he briefly studied (1932-33) under Walter Peterhans of the Bauhaus design school in Berlin and developed his signature avant-garde style. Upon his return to Argentina in 1936, he was commissioned to photograph Buenos Aires for its 400th anniversary and used his newly acquired Leica camera to compose his famed nighttime street scenes and spirited snapshots of city life. Coppola was also praised for his portraits of artists, such as Marc Chagall and Joan Miró, and for his still life studies, including Egg and Twine (1932). His work was the subject of a retrospective in 1969 at the Museum of Modern Art in Buenos Aires.


Reluctant to exhibit and sell his work outside his native Argentina, apart from a small collection in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Coppola's work was unseen for many years before the turn of the century. In 2015, New York's Museum of Modern Art curated the first major exhibition of Coppola and his wife, another leading avant-garde photographer, Grete Stern, From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires. Today, Coppola is seen as one of the last great avant-garde artists from the 1920s and 30s.