Precious Collections

“There are many beautiful pictures, upon which we gaze and gaze, until we find ourselves transported in thought to the scenes so faithfully represented.” These words, which were written over 150 years ago, come from a review in The Art Journal (1839-1912). The reviewer had just witnessed the first lens-based art show held in a museum. In 1858, the Photographic Society of London displayed over 1,000 prints across a wide range of subject matter, from architecture to landscapes. The V&A, formerly the South Kensington Museum, was the setting for this historic event. Today, it has a collection of over 800,000 images.

The gallery has continued to further its commitment to sharing stunning photography with the public, and is now launching its largest ever temporary exhibition for the medium. Fragile Beauty showcases the private archive of Sir Elton John and David Furnish, which spans from the 1950s to the present. More than 300 rare prints from 140 imagemakers are on view, including Ai Weiwei, Carrie Mae Weems, Cindy Sherman and Diane Arbus. Many of the pieces are making their exhibition debut, as part of this landmark show.

In Ryan McGinley’s (b.1977) Dakota Hair, we see a figure sitting in the back of a moving truck, as wind sweeps through their hair, the desert landscape nothing more than a blur in the background. Elsewhere, Herb Ritts (1952-2002) accentuates a daring Versace dress in a moody black-and-white fashion editorial. Why do these photographs pull us in over and over again? One answer has stood the test of time: images have the power to whisk us off to faraway places and periods in time. They are portals into distant worlds.

V&A, Fragile Beauty | Until 18 May

Image Credits:

  1. Ryan McGinley, Dakota Hair, 2004 © Ryan McGinley Studios.
  2. Eve Arnold, USA. Nevada. Marilyn MONROE in the Nevada desert going over her lines for a difficult scene she is about to play with Clark GABLE in the film THE MISFITS. 1960 © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos.