Each of these photographs serves as inspiration for me in my life; they line the walls of my home and I consider them precious gems. I want people to think, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that before, never knew this kind of thing existed’ – just as I did when I first saw these photographs.
– SIR ELTON JOHN –
Yesterday, whilst trying to understand the understated and simple yet deceptively complex interior of the Tate Modern, I managed to find my way to The Radical Eye, a collection of modernist photography from The Sir Elton John Collection. Maybe I’m reading too far into the exhibition title, but it seems radical that someone who knows next to nothing about photography techniques, analysis and history is attempting to write a review about a hugely popular and anticipated exhibition. But that’s what I loved about this exhibition; how it honed my currently underdeveloped interest in photography and was able to appeal to refined photographic critics and amateurs alike, through the carefully planned layout of so many photographic themes and photographers.
The brief yet impressively accessible introductions to each photographic theme, and descriptions of certain works and collections enabled a level of understanding otherwise difficult to achieve. I arrived verdant in my understanding of the technicalities of photography as an art form, and left with an insatiable desire to see more, learn more and even take more photos.
The exhibition intends to capture the photographic revolution of the 20s, 30s and 40s when experimental techniques and creative decisions were pushing boundaries and changing the way in which people saw everyday objects and situations. I think this collection of innovative modernist photography does just that in a way that is accessible to a huge breadth of people, giving an insight into the exciting developments in this artistic field as well as inspiring many people of today to look at the world in a different way through the medium of photography. And I think that makes it more than a worthwhile visit.
This was one of my favourite photos from the exhibition. I love the way the camera captures the light on the water, and the distortion of the body seen through the pool. This photo also exhibits the way in which the camera is able to capture movement with a clarity unattainable with the naked eye, changing our perspective of and finding a beauty in a common situation. This photo reminds me of Hockney’s paintings of swimming pools, and the difference in the presentation of light reflection becomes interesting through the comparison of mediums – photography and acrylic on canvas.
“The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel of palpitating flesh.” EDWARD WESTON
This photo, in contrast to the last, demonstrates the more experimental and creative side of photography, transforming a mundane portrait or landscape using a variety of techniques. The physiognomy of this portrait is pensive, distant and serious, which contrasts with the more playful and irregular colour injected into the image. Alone, the portrait is interesting through the psychology of the sitter, yet Breitenbach lends the image another dimension through the light exposure, creating a complex masterpiece.
This series by Man Ray titled Noir et Blanche feels poignantly relevant to today’s society. The contrast between the white skin of the model and the dark ebony of the traditional African mask captures two opposite shades in the vast spectrum of human skin colour. Yet when this image is positioned next to its negative, any preconceptions of the model or the mask due to their skin tone are rendered irrelevant through the reversal of colour. It seems to me a powerful message about the irrationality of racial discrimination and the intrinsic similarities between humans, a connection that goes further than skin-deep.