The Radical Eye at Tate Modern review ***

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The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection

Tate Modern, 29th March 2017

Sir Elton John is a thoroughly good bloke in my book. Firstly, for letting the Tate conjure up an exhibition of iconic works by renowned photographers (Man Ray, Dali, Kertesz, Strand), secondly for not coming over like a pretentious kn*b when explaining why he started buying them in the video that accompanies the exhibition – essentially because he liked them and it helped him get over the booze – and thirdly because he intends to gift the collection in time I gather. I can even forgive him for accepting the invitation from Kate Bush to sing on the Fifty Words for Snow album (mind you Stephen Fry should also have put the phone down). Though to be fair it is Kate’s fault for asking and my theory is she deliberately makes these lapses of judgement to confuse us into thinking she is human and not actually a god.

Having said that the house where Sir Elton displays them could do with a bit of colour accessorising in my view – there is a whiff of show home here. As perhaps could this exhibition. There are some absolutely stunning images here make no mistake, but they are all so perfect in pristine black and white, whether portraits, nudes, landscapes, close ups, surrealist mash-ups or still lifes, that in the end I was overwhelmed rather than engaged. The “coffee table book syndrome” that can often hit me in photography exhibitions came fast and came big. It is entirely my fault but I just ended up needing a hit of paint (mmm a bit of Doig would have done the trick if I had time – I know, I know now who is the pretentious kn*b).

If you know what you are looking at then I gather this is the bee’s knees. If you are a casual observer is it worth a whizz round? Yes. But if I only had time for one in Tate Modern right now the Wolfgang Tillmans would get my vote. Nothing pretty about most of his photos but way more to chew on.

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