The Radical Eye – Tate Modern

I recently visited The Radical Eye exhibition at Tate Modern. This sublime collection of vintage prints is the personal collection of Elton John.

With work from Man Ray, Dorothea Lange, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Johan Hagemeyer amongst others, this is essential viewing for anyone with even a slightest modicum of interest in photography.

Unfortunately, you’re not able to take photos while in the gallery, but I found some images on the internet to give an idea of how the exhibition looked like. Also, it was very interesting to see how these iconic prints have been framed. All were very classic in style & of a very high quality. No shiny bling – they were polished with a matt finish, either in a paired-down gold or silver colour. All of the prints featured are usually displayed in Elton John’s home.

What strikes you is the palpable difference between seeing these prints ‘in real life’ rather than just reproduced in a book, on a postcard or on screen. There’s a real depth to the various shades of grey, black & white. Maybe it’s the way the light reacts to the surface of the print, reflecting rather than absorbing. I find this happens a lot with comparing originals to facsimile. I recently visited the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition, also at Tate Modern. There’s such a pointed difference in how the colours come alive in the original paintings. The prints are quite dull & disappointing in comparison.

Looking at these black & white prints also readjusted my own interpretation of monochrome. I converted an image taken in the Boiler Room at the Tate which (in my own opinion) appears to have a bit more depth to my previous efforts. I don’t think you’ll ever be able to achieve the quality of a genuine monochrome print, but there is no harm in trying!


Criteria Ref: P1, P2, P4, P5


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