Tate Modern presents the first exhibition of Modernist photography from The Sir Elton John Collection ever staged in the UK. The collection includes some of the most iconic images from the 1920s to the 1950s and covers themes ranging from classic portraiture to social documentary, still life and experimental techniques.
The exhibition features almost 200 works from more than 60 artists and consists entirely of rare vintage prints, all created by the artists themselves. Some of the artists in the exhibition include Man Ray, André Kertész, Berenice Abbot, Alexandr Rodchenko and Edward Steichen.
The first half of the 20th century began to see photographers exploring with many aspects of the photographic medium and developing photography into a distinct art form. One of the leading artists of the period was Man Ray who has 25 works in the exhibition including a set of portraits depicting well-known figures of the early 20th century including André Breton, Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar, Henri Matisse and Man Ray himself. Whilst many of the portraits in this section could be considered traditional, many modernist artists challenged the often ‘stiff’ formal portraiture with more informal poses and compositions.
This was also an age when artists began to experiment with the process of photography using double exposures or manipulating the image for the desired effect. Some artists went for a more serious approach whilst others went for a more humorous approach.
The experimental approach began to see the human form in different ways especially catching dancers in performance which profiled their remarkable athleticism and bodies.
The first half of the 20th century was a period of considerable upheaval and social turmoil and some artists began to use photography to document some of the victims of the financial and economic downturns. Dorothea Lange’s remarkable Migrant Mother 1936 presented a different picture of the American Dream and challenged viewers to consider different aspects of their society. Technological advances such as the portable camera allowed artists to go into streets and neighbourhoods to record ‘everyday life’.
The final room illustrates how some artists began to reveal the beauty of everyday objects by isolating them from their surroundings or using unconventional angles or perspectives.
Taking a private collection of photography and transferring it into an art gallery can sometimes take away some of its intimacy. The film of Elton John in his apartment full of the photographs illustrated how the pictures formed an important part of his creative life. Some of the informality of the collection is transferred to the gallery by using the same frames when displayed in Elton John’s home.
This fascinating exhibition may only cover a relatively short period, however it can be considered an era when photography began to cease replicating other art forms and began to assert its own identity. Manipulating the photographic process began to create unique images of many different types of objects. Although many artists veered towards the abstract, others were drawn to the ‘real world’ and used photography to document everyday life in all its variety. This is a rare opportunity of viewing so many iconic vintage prints in one exhibition.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information or to book tickets, visit the Tate Modern website here
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