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The Radical Eye - Elton John's private collection at the Tate

29th March 2017

Sir Elton John became obsessed with photography and the notion of the Modernist photographer in the early 1990s. Just before he overcame an alcohol addiction, he sold off his entire art collection bar four paintings. After he became sober in 1990, Elton John was introduced to photography and was instantly enthralled and began collecting, now calling photography the ‘love of his life’ in terms of the art form. The Rocket Man’s collection now spans to over 8,000 photos, most of which are displayed in his 18,000sqft apartment in Atlanta, bought purely to display his collection. But now he has lent the Tate Modern nearly 150 of his prints, all of which are original prints from over 70 artists. This collection shows a clear knowledge and passion for the photography art form, and we were completely captivated by the vastness of his collection. This exhibition is truly a must-see...

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

The collection on show gives visitors an extensive insight into the classic Modernist period between the 1920s to 1950s, giving amateurs a great introduction to the medium as well as giving photography addicts the opportunity to view some of the world’s most influential prints such as Man Ray’s renowned ‘glass tears’. From Man Ray’s instantly recognisable portraits of influential artists from Salvador Dali, Picasso and Matisse to his famous "Rayographs", the exhibition takes visitors on a journey through the development of photographic techniques as well as the innovation of the artists to manipulate the medium to create pieces of art.

Left: 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. Right: 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

The exhibition begins with portraiture; early developments of photography allowed artists to capture an accurate likeness of subjects never seen before, but Modernist artists used this to push the boundaries of pose, composition and emotion. For example, Salvador Dali’s aggressive and intense stare photographed by Irving Penn in 1947 appears to capture Dali’s raw emotion which was previously unheard of achieving in the art industry.

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

But it’s in the experimentation room where the Modernist photographer’s true innovation shows. Previously considered ‘mistakes’ such as distortions and double exposures are utilised to create ‘otherworldly’ images, long before the invention of Photoshop. Hubert Bayer’sHumanly Possibleself-portrait, where a portion of his arm is missing, is a fantastic example of this.

Herbert Bayer 1900-1985 "Humanly Impossible (Self-Portrait)" 1932 Photomontage, bromoil gelatin silver print with gouache and airbrush on paper 394 x 295 mm The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

"This collection shows a clear knowledge and passion for the photography art form, and we were completely captivated by the vastness of his collection."

Left: Josef Breitenbach 1896-1984 "Patricia, New York" c. 1942 Photograph; Bromoil transfer print on gelatin silver paper 343 x 257 mm The Sir Elton John Photography Collection Copyright Josef and Yaye Breitenbach Charitable Foundation, Courtesy Gitterman Gallery. Right: Maurice Tabard 1897-1984 Solarised man 1930 Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper 248 x 165 mm The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

But the true standout photograph in the entire collection is Dorothea Lange and Walker EvansGreat Depression series. ‘Migrant Mother’ is an emotion-fuelled masterpiece that completely captivated us; we were able to experience her pain and suffering.

Dorothea Lange 1895-1965 "Migrant Mother" 1936 Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper 318 x 241 mm The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

And we could go on and on! This exhibition and Sir Elton John’s collection is immensely impressive. Every photograph has an historical and artistic significance, and tells a story like no other. Don't miss out on this truly inspiration curated masterpiece...

The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection

Tate Modern
Bankside
London
SE1 9TG

10 November 2016 – 21 May 2017 

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