Horacio Coppola, whose black-and-white photographs of the cafes, side streets and neon-lit boulevards of Buenos Aires in the 1930s, and of ordinary objects like a typewriter and a doll, introduced avant-garde photography to Argentina, died on June 18 in Buenos Aires. He was 105.
His death was confirmed by Michael Hoppen, a gallery owner in London who deals in Mr. Coppola’s work. Mr. Hoppen donated a Coppola photograph to the Tate Modern museum in London, where it was put on display just a few weeks before Mr. Coppola’s death.
The Museum of Modern Art owns six of Mr. Coppola’s photographs, which aren’t currently on display, and hopes to obtain more for a show in 2015 of his work and that of the photographer Grete Stern, who was his first wife. “The museum has a directed a lot of attention toward the acquisition of work by Latin American artists, and Coppola is at the top of that list,” Sarah Meister, a photography curator at MoMA, said.
In 1930, the writer Jorge Luis Borges, a friend, launched Mr. Coppola’s career by using some of his photographs to illustrate a book about the poet Evaristo Carriego, according to Amanda Hopkinson, a literary translator and specialist on Latin American culture who teaches at City University London and the University of Manchester.
Mr. Coppola is not well known outside Argentina, but his works, particularly his nighttime images of Buenos Aires, are on par with those of more renowned photographers from his era, like George Brassaï, known for images of Paris at night, and Bill Brandt, celebrated for portraits and night scenes in London, Ms. Meister said.
One Coppola photograph at the Museum of Modern Art, perhaps his most noted, is “Egg and Twine,” taken in 1932 when he was studying at the Bauhaus in Berlin with the photographer and teacher Walter Peterhans. The picture is a still life of an egg in its shell, resting on a wood surface alongside a looping, curling length of twine. A print of it is hanging in the Tate.
“It is spectacular,” Ms. Meister said, adding: “The very close-up view was characteristic of work being done when Walter Peterhans was directing the photography program at the Bauhaus. The idea of describing surface textures and the quality of light in a uniquely photographic way was something Peterhans championed. This is a particularly well-accomplished example of that, in terms of the composition, the layering of light and dark. It’s a very shallow space, and yet the range of light is impressive.”
Mr. Hoppen said he had chanced on one of Mr. Coppola’s photographs at a gallery in Berlin around 2000 and was instantly captivated.
He tracked down Mr. Coppola and spent a week with him in Buenos Aires examining his work. Mr. Coppola, then in his 90s, still remembered where and how he had taken every picture, Mr. Hoppen said. He bought about 50 photographs — half of what Mr. Coppola had on hand — including night and day cityscapes, abstractions, nudes and the coronation of King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth.
“Nobody knew about him,” Mr. Hoppen said. “It was a strange sort of backwater.”
The photographs sell for an average of $6,200 to $7,800. Horacio Coppola was born in Buenos Aires on July 31, 1906, the youngest of 10 children. His parents, Italian immigrants, were well off, and he studied art, music, law and languages. He was about 20 when he began taking pictures.
He traveled to Europe in the 1920s and ’30s, and was excited by the modernist movement. Photography was coming into its own as an art form, with pictures being shot from odd angles and cropped for effect.
He met Ms. Stern in Germany; they married in London. There, he took portraits of famous artists, and worked on a book about Mesopotamian artifacts in the Louvre and the British Museum. The couple went back to Argentina in 1936. That year, he was commissioned to photograph Buenos Aires for its 400th anniversary, and produced evocative streetscapes that captured the romance, vitality and squalor of a great city.
He and Ms. Stern had a daughter, Silvia, and a son, Andres. They later divorced. In 1959 Mr. Coppola married Raquel Palomeque, a pianist. Ms. Stern, Ms. Palomeque and the two children died before him.