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John Coplans

Updated: Mar 23, 2018

"To remove all references to my current identity, I leave out my head" J.Coplan

John Coplans, Self portrait hands holding feet, 1985


English photographer, painter, writer and curator. He took his first photographs in 1941, whilst serving in the King's African Rifles in Ethiopia. On his return to London in 1946 he studied painting. Inspired by the exhibition The New American Painting (London, Tate, 1959), Coplans moved to the USA in 1960 and began teaching at the University of California at Berkeley. Under the influence of his friend the photographer Lee Friedlander, he began to take photographs.

In 1984 Coplans began taking the photographs of his own body with which he established his international reputation as an artist. These large-scale black-and-white images, enlarged from 4×5 inch Polaroid photographs and often presented in groups, are candid and sometimes humorous explorations of his own body.

By cropping off the head, Coplans presents these depersonalised images of the body as a surprising, intriguing object, fascinating in detail and malleability. A major element in the fascination was an obsession with one of our few remaining taboos: the process of ageing and physical decrepitude. Creased folds, odd protuberances and body hair of an old man become a documentary tale.

I like the vulnerability, strength and tenderness of Coplans's photographs. I like the fact that he is working on his own body's imperfection, I should do it as well. I am fascinated about the hair of the human male body; I see something of natural and  imperfect at the same time, something not considered beautiful by the society but that exist.

  John Coplan, Fingers, Walking, 1999


"The principal thing is the question of how our culture views age: that old is ugly ... Just think of Rodin, how he dealt with people of all ages. I have the feeling that I'm alive, I have a body ... I can make it extremely interesting. That keeps me alive and vital. It's a kind of process of energizing myself by my belief that the classical tradition of art that we've inherited from the Greeks is a load of bullshit." J.Coplan


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