Sir Elton John Photography Collection Tate Modern London ‘The Radical Eye’. Snapshots & Fun to Profound Works

Modernist Photography – Snapshots – Sir Elton John Photography Collection Tate Modern

Three things that stood out for me when I visited the Sir Elton John Photography Collection Tate Modern: a vast number of the photographs vaunted as profound and meaningful could be simply labelled as ‘snapshots’. They reminded me of the black and white images I took as a child with my box brownie.

I passed quickly over these.

A little step from this were the fun and games images by such as Man Ray and Herbert Bayer. Art – ?? Technically effective and clever for their time but now very passé.

Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Man Ray Glass Tears






The next category were portraits of celebrities such as Salvador Dali and Spencer Tracey. The poses were good, the lighting spot on, but again simply a move on from the snapshot.

Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Johan Hagemeyer Salvador Dali

Modernist Photography – Collusion

However, what was striking was the obvious collusion between the photographer and the subject. It must only be in photography that the sitter, the subject, has such control over the final outcome image.

The sitter determines how they wish to be portrayed; the photographer clicks the button, almost like the selfie phenomenon.

The photographer as artist? I think not. The photographer as a mere recorder? I think so.

Modernist Photography – Profound

Thirdly were the photographs by such as Dorothea Lange. ‘Migrant Mother’ (1936) and ‘Damaged Child’. These were once again so obviously posed; the lighting and postures spot on, but from that point on, the messages were profound.

Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Migrant Mother Lange

With no dialogue to help us we are invited to ponder and mull on the condition, circumstances and disposition of the subjects, the human beings, before us.

Modernist Photography – Values and Experiences – Snapshots to the Profound

Sir Elton John Photography Collection Tate Modern
Damaged Child Dorothea Lange

The role of the recording photographer, choosing her subjects and composition well enough to make us stand and stare. The power of the picture actually residing with us to make our interpretation based on our values and experiences.

At the Tate Modern London until 21 May 2017