Press Release



On 10 November 2016 Tate Modern opens the first exhibition of Modernist photography from The Sir Elton John Collection ever staged in the UK.  This world-class collection includes some of the most iconic images from the 1920s to the 1950s, sure to delight both avid photography enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Covering themes ranging from classic portraiture to social documentary, still life and experimental techniques, the exhibition presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for UK audiences to see rare vintage prints.

On display in the exhibition are 25 works by Man Ray (1890–1976) – a leading artist in this movement. A highlight is a set of portraits depicting great figures of the 20th century, put together by Sir Elton John and displayed alongside each other in public for the first time at Tate Modern. This includes avant-garde icons such as André Breton, Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar, Henri Matisse and Man Ray himself.

On the opening of The Radical Eye, Sir Elton John commented: ‘Collecting photography over the last 25 years has opened my eyes – it’s one of the most important and progressive art forms of the 20th century. I want everyone to go away thinking about the artists behind these images and marvel at how they experimented and changed the way we see things forever. They were going where no other photographer had gone before. I consider them true adventurers and what they did was extraordinary. Many people may not even realise I have this collection. But art should be seen. That’s why I’m so happy that Tate Modern is sharing these iconic works with the public. These photographs have given me so much pleasure for a long time and I hope visitors will experience as much joy in seeing the works as I have had in finding them.’ 

Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate added:  ‘Elton has shown a real commitment to photography as an art form. His passion is evident in the way he has built his collection, with images ranging from the male nude, to show-business celebrities, performers and musicians. These reflect his natural sympathies but also make even more unusual and striking his commitment to the radical pioneers of the twentieth century seen in the Tate Modern exhibition. We have called this show The Radical Eye, to remind everyone just how original and challenging the pioneering photographers of the 1920s, 30s and 40s really were. Coming face-to-face with such masterpieces of photography in London will be a rare and rewarding experience.’

Frances Morris, Director, Tate Modern said: ‘Tate, which only began collecting photography seriously and strategically in 2009, has very little material from this seminal moment in its collection. Today many vintage prints from the period are beyond the reach of a national collection. This project has given our curatorial team the opportunity to make an exhibition showing the greatest photographers of the twentieth century, including key figures such as Imogen Cunningham, André Kertész, Tina Modotti and Man Ray and among many others.’

The exhibition sets out to highlight how artists explored the many different facets of the photographic medium and re-wrote the rulebook of photographic approaches and techniques. For the first time, rather than emulating other art forms, photography began to embrace qualities unique to itself - from its ability to reproduce the world in sharp detail to its capacity to create through the manipulation of light, chemicals and paper. Further exhibition highlights include an extensive display of social documentary photography including seminal works by Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, and a rare contact print of André Kertész’s masterpiece Underwater Swimmer, Hungary 1917.

The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection is at Tate Modern from 10 November 2016 until 7 May 2017. It is curated by Shoair Mavlian with Simon Baker and Newell Harbin, Director of The Sir Elton John Photography Collection.

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