The Language of Experimentation

Tate Modern, London, presents The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection. Featuring over 150 works from 60 artists, the pieces are drawn from one of the world’s greatest private photography collections, with an unparalleled selection of modernist images dating from 1920s to the 1950s. The exhibition consists of entirely rare vintage prints directly produced by the artists, work from seminal artists such as Berenice Abbot, Alexandr Rodchenko, and Edward Steichen offering the public a unique opportunity to see renowned work up-close.

Celebrating a pivotal moment in the practice, an exciting change referred to as the “coming of age,” the show charts the advancements that gave artists the language to present the world through an original and distinctively modern way, the freedom to experiment and to test the limits of photography. This major event commemorates the discipline as a tool through which practitioners could both redefine and transform visions of the modern world from a new perspective. Furthermore, the display demonstrates how the seemingly unchangeable and timeless genres of portrait, nude and still life was re-imagined during this crucial moment in the history of the medium. Influential experimentation in both the darkroom and on the surface of the print, such as Maurice Tabard’s solarisation, pushes the audiences to consider how the featured artists rebelled against the accepted conventions of portraiture.

The 20th century brought a series of rapid changes to everyday life- and photography offered both a method to contemplate the world- and a new means to communicate the society and its culture. Rodchenko, Magaret Bourke-White, and László Moholy-Nagy used bird and worm eye techniques to create new viewpoints of the developing metropolis, techniques reminiscent of Constructivism. Furthermore, the show provides an insight into the relationships and inner workings of the avant-garde, featuring portraits of great cultural figures, including Georgia O’Keffe by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston by Tina Modotti, and Jean Cocteau by Berenice Abbott. A group of Man Ray portraits are also displayed for the first time, brought together by Sir Elton John over the past 25 years, depicting major surrealist icons such as Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar. The depth and scope of the Tate’s show portrays the story of modernist photography in an original and engaging way.

The Radical Eye runs until 7 May at the Tate Modern, London. For more information:



  1. Man Ray, Glass Tears (1932). Courtesy of Tate Modern.