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Sir Elton John’s Radical eye: Modernist Photography at Tate Modern

SEEN very much enjoyed David Bowie’s collection of artworks, recently exhibited and auctioned by Sotheby’s. Now we have the unique opportunity to see Sir Elton John’s private collection of photography in a major new exhibition, The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection running at Tate Modern until 7th May 2017.

SEEN very much enjoyed David Bowie’s collection of artworks, recently exhibited and auctioned by Sotheby’s. Now we have the unique opportunity to see Sir Elton John’s private collection of photography in a major new exhibition, The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection running at Tate Modern until 7th May 2017.

man-ray-glass-tears
Man Ray 1890-1976
Glass Tears
1932
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
229 x 298
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

Sir Elton possesses one of the world’s greatest private collections of photography; his most ‘favourite art-form in the whole world’, with some 8,000 images. This exhibition features his Modernist collection, consisting of 191 images from the 1920s to the 1950s taken by seminal figures such as Man Ray, André Kertész, Berenice Abbot, Alexandr Rodchenko and Edward Steichen, to name but a few. It consists entirely of rare vintage prints, all created by the artists themselves and collected by Sir Elton since 1990, when David Feye opened up a whole new world of art and photography to him, which soon became ‘the love of his life’ (in art terms, of course).

edward-steichen-a-bee-on-a-sunflower
Edward Steichen
A Bee on a Sunflower
c. 1920
Brown-toned palladium print on paper
241 x 197 mm
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

This unique selection of photographs, collected over the past twenty-five years, tells the story of Modernist photography from its ‘coming of age’ as an art-form in the 1920s, when it began to be used by artists as a means of expressing their personal visions of the modern world, from a new and radical perspective. The earliest image from the exhibition is André Kertész’s  masterpiece, Underwater Swimmer, Hungary 1917; the original contact sheet of a picture of his brother swimming. A great example of what photography does, is that just like literature, it lets your imagination come alive and recreate what was going on when the picture was taken.

André Kertész 1894-1985 Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary, 30 June 1917 Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper 32 x 45 mm The Sir Elton John Photography Collection © Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures
André Kertész 1894-1985
Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary, 30 June
1917
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
32 x 45 mm
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures

Portraiture is a classical genre that photography reinvented with a totally new perspective, pushing the accepted conventions of the time. A good example is the cover photo for the exhibition’s catalogue, Man Ray’s Glass Tears, a close-up of a mannequin’s face crying glass beads, which was bought by Sir Elton at a Sotheby’s auction in 1993 for almost, $200,000, a record price for a photograph at the time. Some of Sir Elton’s favourites are the 60 portraits of himself by Irvin Penn, which, according to Sir Elton, ‘reflect the eccentricity of his life’. Penn distorted the musician’s face by slowly moving the camera while Sir Elton was sitting and talking to him about photography. There are also portraits of avant-garde figures of the 20th century, including Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston by Tina Modotti, Jean Cocteau by Berenice Abbott, and Igor Stravinsky by Edward Weston. Also worth highlighting are Man Ray’s portraits, exhibited together for the first time, of key surrealist figures such as André Bréton, Max Ernst, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar.

man-ray-dora-maar
Man Ray 1890-1976
Dora Maar
1936
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
165 x 215 mm
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016
man-ray-nusch-eluard
Man Ray 1890-1976
Nusch Eluard
1928
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
175 x 225 mm
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016
HyperFocal: 0
Irving Penn 1917-2009
Salvador Dali, New York
1947
Gelatin silver print. Vintage.
235 x 184 mm
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Copyright © The Irving Penn Foundation
igor-stravinsky
Edward Weston 1886-1958
Igor Stravinsky
1935
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
117 x 92 mm
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

All the changes and artistic movements experimented with throughout the 20th century were also reflected in photography, which found new ways to communicate and represent the world. Works from Alexandr Rodchenko, László Moholy-Nagy and Margaret Bourke-White demonstrate the use of ‘worm’s eye’ and ‘bird’s eye’ views to create new perspectives of the modern metropolis (techniques associated with constructivism and the Bauhaus), to the move towards abstraction (isolated architectural elements, camera-less photography), such as Man Ray’s rayographs and Harry Callahan’s light abstractions.

margaret-bourke-whitegeorge-washington-bridge
Margaret Bourke-White
George Washington Bridge
1933
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
343 x 225 mm
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photo © Estate of Margaret Bourke-White/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
man-ray-rayograph
Man Ray 1890-1976
Rayograph
1923
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
283 x 225 mm
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

These are just a few of the pieces of art drawn from one of the world greatest private collections of photography. Further themes explored are Still Life, with Imogen Cunningham’s Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels 1925 and Tina Modotti’s Bandelier, Corn and Sickle 1927 on show, as well as the important role of documentary photography as a tool of mass communication, featured in images such as Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother 1936 and Walker Evans’ Floyde Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama 1936, from the Farm Security Administration project.

tina-modotti-bandelier-corn-and-sickle
Tina Modotti 1896-1942
Bandolier, Corn and Sickle 
     1927
Photograph, gelatin silver print on postcard stock
95 x 79 mm
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
dorothea-lange-migrant-mother
Dorothea Lange 1895-1965
Migrant Mother
1936
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
318 x 241 mm
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

www.tate.org.uk

Until 7th May, 2017

Tate Modern
Bankside 
London
SE1 9TG

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