Last week, Tate Modern unveiled The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection. It’s the first collaboration between the Tate and Sir Elton, featuring nearly 150 vintage prints from over 70 artists.
The exhibition focuses on the modernist period in the first half of the twentieth century. It was a ‘coming of age’ for photography as artists began to explore and experiment with the medium, stepping away from other art forms and presenting their subjects and the world from new perspectives. Emphasis shifted towards the qualities of the photos rather than what the photo represents.
Spread over six rooms, The Radical Eye includes works from Aleksander Rodchenko, Berenice Abbott, and Man Ray. The photographs are arranged by theme, each exploring the developments that occurred during the modernist era. One highlight is a collection of portraits by Man Ray of seminal artists including Matisse, Picasso, and Derain. Another is the original contact print of ‘Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom’ taken by André Kertész in 1917, a tiny piece that’s also the oldest photo in the exhibition.
The Radical Eye also offers insight into the artists’ creativity and processes, from documenting the new photography techniques to a quote from Rodchenko defending experimental photography, arguing that “the most interesting viewpoints for modern photography are from above down and below up, and any others rather than belly-button level”.
Sir Elton began his photography collection in 1991, a year after getting sober. It became a new addiction: today the collection stands at over 8,000 images. In contrast, the Tate only started their commitment to photography in 2009. While he may not take any photographs himself and admits to hating having his photo taken, there is no doubt that Sir Elton has an incredible eye for photography judging by the selection on display.
An incredible glimpse into a vast private collection and an insightful look at modernist photography, The Radical Eye is a must-see for photography fans.
The Radical Eye runs until 7 May 2017.