This new exhibition in Tate Modern’s new switch House space is a real celebration of how photography can be used for artistic and dramatic effect.
Concentrating on the first half of the twentieth century, considered to be the “coming of age” period for photography, this straightforward and intriguing exhibition explores modernist photography through the extraordinary collection of Sir Elton John.
While the exhibition is only able to showcase a relatively small selection of this 8000 plus collection of prints, it reveals exactly how modernist photography changed the focus of a photograph from the subject to the visual qualities of the ph0tograph as a whole.
The Radical Eye features a wide range of work by a variety of artists, but it is the name Man Ray that pops up most consistently throughout the display, which is fantastic to see on one level because it is his work that catches the eye the most but it also means that visitors don’t get to explore the other artists and what they achieved as thoroughly.
In a sense, although the exhibition is arranged thematically, there is still a feeling that you have on some level stepped into the world of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy world of Wonderland, changing everything that you thought you knew about photography on its head and opening your eyes just a little bit wider.
When wondering past Johan Hagemeyer’s portrait of Salvador Dali, there is a quote from Dali’s Diary of a Genius which says “Where is the real? all appearance are deceitful, the visible surface is deceptive.” you can’t help but wonder if this is what the purpose of the exhibition – to show that you need to look beyond the subject to get to the heart of the photograph.
It is a message which certainly comes through over and over again – particularly during the portraits/bodies and document sections of the exhibition. In each sections, visitors become increasingly aware of how artists were willing to push the boundaries of photography to the limits through composition and cropping to achieve an entirely new effect.
Strong examples of this include Man Ray’s Noire en Blanche, both the positive and the negative hung side by side, revealing how a change in technique can be used to add a different perspective of the same image according to what effect going for. Meanwhile, Irving Penn’s corner works, according to the artist “comforted” the subject and removed the problem of him holding onto them, but it also means there is a sense of focus and honesty about them that ordinary photographic portraits lack.
Yet, while there is strong work on display consistently, there is still an overriding feeling that the exhibition is lacking in informing people about the lesser known artists who are on display here and celebrating what they achieved.
But The Radical Eye does manage to change the perspective of photography that you might enter with and completely transform it and see it with a new eyes. It is an astonishing collection that celebrates and respects a different and more artistic style of photography and will delight those with a deep fascination and understanding of photography.
The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection will be on display at the Tate Modern from the 10th November until the 7th May 2017. For more information and to book tickets visit: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/radical-eye-modernist-photography-sir-elton-john-collection