Coplans was born in London and grew up in England and South Africa. He moved to America in 1960 and worked as a writer, teacher, curator and magazine editor during the 1960s and 1970s. He was one of the founders of the influential 'Artforum' magazine in 1962. Coplans began taking photographs in 1979, and since 1984 has concentrated on photographing his naked body. He never portrays his face, but his monumentally-sized black and white photographs focus on sections of the body in a way that defamiliarises it for the viewer, suggesting other forms (particularly landscape) and enhancing abstract qualities.