“Nusch Eluard” (1928), by Man Ray (1890-1976). Gelatin silver print on paper.
Singer-songwriter Sir Elton John has a passion aside from music: photography. His collection of vintage photographs, currently numbering nearly 8,000, is now considered one of the most important in the world.
A new exhibition at the Tate Modern in London, “The Radical Eye,” features nearly 200 modernist photographs - pioneering images from the 1920s to the ‘50s - all drawn from Sir Elton’s collection.
Sir Elton John began to build his collection 25 years ago. Many are hung floor-to-ceiling in his 17,000-square-foot apartment in Atlanta.
“It’s kind of taken over my life,” he explained to CBS News’ Anthony Mason. “I must buy at least three or four photographs a week. I just bought three this morning.”
Credit: CBS News
Sir Elton John's Collection
Sir Elton John with Edward Steichen’s 1924 portrait of silent film star Gloria Swanson. “You can practically feel the lace,” he said.
Sir Elton’s passion for collecting (he’d been a buyer of art and furniture) shifted to photography after he’d gone through rehab for alcohol addiction. “I’d never noticed photography as an art form before,” he told Anthony Mason.
What had changed? “I’d gotten sober. I was seeing with different eyes. I mean, when you get sober, you see everything in a different context. You have clarity. You have a bit more wisdom. … I saw beauty that I’d never seen before.”
Credit: CBS News
The picture that changed everything for him? Man Ray’s 1930 image called “Glass Tears.” “It was a huge leap,” he said about acquiring it. “It was like a Cape Canaveral leap.”
In 1993 he bought a vintage print at auction for almost $200,000.
When he found out what the final cost was, what was his reaction? “I thought I’d gone nuts. I thought, ‘Well, f****!’ But that was the first major step, I think, of getting to be a serious collector.”
The Tate Modern show features vintage prints made by the artists themselves, including “Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary, 30 June” (1917) by André Kertész (1894-1985). The postage stamp-sized print actually measures 32 x 45 mm.