Magazine article USA TODAY

An Eye for Beauty: The Sir Elton John Collection

Magazine article USA TODAY

An Eye for Beauty: The Sir Elton John Collection

Article excerpt

The exhibition at Atlanta's High Museum "is about the sincere passion of a collector and his desire not only to live with his collection, but to share his love of these images with his friends and the public."

ELTON JOHN'S affection for photography began at the time when the musician/composer was starting a new life of sobriety. It is almost as if photography--with its directness, truth, and poignancy--became symbolic of this change. In 1991, while visiting friends in France during Le Printemps de Cahors, a photography festival held in that city, John was introduced to the work of Horst P. Horst. Fascinated by the abstract beauty and simplicity of the nude form captured in the work, he made his first photographic purchase. Although John had been involved with hundreds of commercial photo shoots during his career, he had never looked at photography as an art form until that moment. He was immediately captivated, and his passion for the medium has increased during the years since.

My first meeting with John was in 1991 on New Year's Eve day, several months after he had made his initial acquisition. The previous year, he had bought an apartment home in Atlanta, where he had made new friends and where the public allowed him to enjoy himself as a regular person and not as a celebrity. My gallery was closed for the holiday, and I was at home coping with a winter flu, when a friend of John's called to see if I would open the gallery for them. Needless to say, I quickly recovered.

This first meeting between us was brief, as he was mainly purchasing photographs for gifts (a tradition he continues today). It was apparent that he had a strong interest in photography and a craving to learn more about its history and artists. Knowing that a person's confidence level is one of the most important aspects of developing a collection, I sought to find ways of assisting John to develop his eye and expand his knowledge of the medium. He turned out to be a quick study. As he left the gallery after his first visit, his arms were loaded with photography books. Later, I would discover that John is a voracious reader, especially of biographies, and his collection of art books now reaches into the hundreds.

His first interest in photography was of figurative forms and fashion images. One of the first photographers he collected in depth was Irving Penn. In 1992, John purchased his first Penn, and his collection currently holds approximately 40 prints representing all aspects of Penn's oeuvre. John would continue to collect in depth the work of other photographers, including John Dugdale, Michael Kenna, and Robert Mapplethorpe.

During this same year, as we perused one of the auction catalogues, he became intrigued with modernist photography, particularly vintage prints of the 1920s and 1930s. John responded strongly to the abstract forms and experimentation being done by artists during this era. I began researching and seeking out images that were important and that would spark his interest. As many of these prints are rare, I sought work from artists' estates, fellow dealers, and auction houses.

At the New York auctions, it became increasingly difficult to bid discreetly on his behalf, as John became known for breaking price records for certain artists, such as Man Ray and Andre Kertesz. At the time, some of the prices he was paying at auction seemed high, but now, as the market for these vintage prints has greatly increased and quality prints are more scarce or unobtainable, his early aggressive decisions seem farsighted. …

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