Thursday, 9 February 2017

'The Radical Eye - Modernist Photography', Tate Modern

'Glass Tears' by Man Ray

It's probably not a mammoth surprise to discover that pop legend Sir Elton John is a massive collector of vintage photography. But what is a surprise is that in contrast to his somewhat garish and over-the-top tastes in fashion and interior decor (those who've seen at-home interviews with him will know exactly what I mean), Elton's taste in photography is spot on. And in the spirit of generosity, he has shared the highlights of his collection with the everyday public in this exhibition at London's Tate Modern.

The Radical Eye (which is on until 1 May 2017) focuses on photos from the first half of the 20th Century, when photographers were particularly experimental and adventurous with this still-new medium. And if you're really keen, you can even listen to the audio guide from Sir Elton himself as you wander around the exhibition - although I chose to go without. 

There are some very famous photos in the exhibition, including Man Ray's 'Glass Tears' (above) and Dorothea Lange's powerful portrait of 'The Migrant Mother', which is surely one of the most captivating and heartbreaking pictures ever taken. 

But there are plenty of lesser known and unusual pictures here, too. Including an absolutely tiny one of an underwater swimmer by Andre Kertesz, which is about the size of a postage stamp, but is utterly mesmerising. It's hard to believe that this image was taken in 1917 given how fresh and contemporary it seems today, 100 years on. The reflections of the water, and the dappled effect on the swimmer's skin is really extraordinary.

The Radical Eye is themed into different rooms around movement, experiments, portraits and so on, and there is also a five-minute film from Elton in which he explains where his passion for photography stemmed from, and which shows the pictures on display in his own home. Despite my rejection of the Elton audio guide, the film is actually a really useful and interesting tool to put the exhibition into context. Having watched the film, the exhibition is no longer the indulgent folly of an overly wealthy pop star with too much money on his hands, but becomes a means of expression for an ex-addict who has found a way of using other people's art to inspire him. 

As a bonus, The Radical Eye is housed inside Tate Modern's new space The Tanks - well, it's new to me but it's clearly been a year or two since I last paid a visit here. This new space fits well with the original power station structure, and the raw concrete is actually very charming and soothing to spend time in. 

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