The Radical Eye at Tate Modern

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Sir Elton John's photography collection goes on displays in the Tate Modern's new wing for the first time. We went to check it out.

Words by Danielle Morgan

The first thing you see when you enter the new exhibition of Elton John's photography collection is an image of the man himself, 'an insane Alan Bennett' style photo of Elton taken by Irving Penn during a conversation between him and the photographer somewhere around the late 1990s in New York.

The Radical Eye is the first exhibition of works displayed from the Sir Elton John Collection, which comprises of an impressive and unprecedented 8,000 original photographs from seminal photographers of the early 20th century. Staged in the Tate Modern's newly built wing, 10 levels above the Tanks of the original Tate building, the irrational angles and unusual dimensions of the building make the journey to the exhibition as fascinating as the exhibition itself. The raw, industrial feel of the space takes root in the seemingly commonplace stains and blemishes that adorn the floors and walls, making it feel loved and lived in, as though the building were there all along.

As you wander around the exhibition, 4 rooms stuffed to the brim with photographs, only a small portion of his mammoth collection, it is slightly bewildering to wonder where Elton keeps them all until you come to a short film of the man himself walking you through his home, each room adorned with black and white photography from ceiling to floor... literally. Elton likes to get up close and personal with his photographs, so much so that he even sleeps directly underneath Man Ray's Noir et Blanche fixed to the ceiling above his bed.

Elton John, New York 1997, PHOTO CREDIT - The Irving Penn Foundation

An unwavering, deep seated love of photography you have to agree. Photographs, Elton admits, are his favourite art form; like reading a book, they bring your imagination to life. This exhibition documents photography's 'coming of age' spanning a period of time when photographers really began experimenting with what they photographed and how they captured their subjects. It is hard then to not draw parallels between these images and Elton's own career, his unconventional image and output can be seen as a by-product of his love of photography, a passion which, he says, forms as inspiration throughout his life.

Revealing a side to Elton that few of us have seen before, the avid collector, his quirks and eccentricities are fleshed out through the lenses of some of the 20th century's most prominent photographers. From Irving Penn's 1948 series of corner portraits to Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother, the collection deals with experimentation as much as is does with documenting the most raw of human emotions.

According to Elton, the exhibition was brought together not for industry buffs or photography big wigs, but for those who know nothing about photography; to look at an image and to say 'I like that'. Verdict? Whether you love photography or not, pay this exhibition a visit. We're who it was meant for.

The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection is running at the Tate Modern until 7th May 2017. Find out more and book tickets here.