Coburn became a professional photographer at the turn of the century, setting up a studio in New York. He was one of the founding members of the Photosecession Group. In 1904 he moved to London where he became known for his portraits of celebrities such as George Bernard Shaw. Coburn soon became associated with the Vorticist movement. He was much affected by their interest in machinery and in 1917 exhibited a series of Vortographs, made with a device comprised of three mirrors, called a Vortoscope. These have been described as the 'first intentionally abstract photographs'.