Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Radical Eye #Tate #EltonJohn


I managed to drop in on the modernist photography exhibition at the Tate.

The photographs are from Sir Elton John's collection and part way around the show there is a short video of him explaining how he first got into collecting photographs and some of his favourites. The video shows around Elton's Atlanta home, where it looks as if nearly every inch of wall space is covered with photographs.

There's no end of 'greatest hit' type pictures from the likes of Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, Edward Weston and Dorothea Lange. Some of the pictures on show I'd seen before in other exhibitions; as examples the Man Ray Glass Tears (1932) - which was in a Portrait Gallery show a couple of years ago and some of the Lange/Weston Farm Securities Administration series which I saw in a New York show a few years ago.

Beyond the famous pictures there are plenty of lesser known gems (at least to me). A Man Ray picture of his assistant, Berenice Abbot, framed in what would still be a modern format today (below). There's a Henri Cartier-Bresson selfie with his wife, Ratna Mohini, riffing a cool Spanish vibe (top of the post).

They are just two of the many pictures worth an extended view during a browse through what must be 100s on show.

Elton has a few favourites too. The tiny 1917 contact print of the underwater swimmer from André Kertész, or the mysterious 1940 white door of Edward Weston. There's some new topics for me too. A series of Irving Penn pictures shot in an angled faux corner of his studio. Helen Levitt documenting New York in the late 1930s.

The vast majority of the show is monochrome but, unlike some web archival views, the colours of the different papers and techniques are all visible in these many originals, giving a further richness and texture.

To my great joy they have carefully carried the finishes and monochrome colours into the show's excellent catalogue, which was an unmissable item from the shop.

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