The photography market shifts to Paris this week for the opening of Paris Photo, the largest and most successful photography fair in the world, But to see the best modern photography collection formed in recent years, London is the place to be. Here, Tate is exhibiting a small proportion of the holdings of Elton John, devoted to the age of experimentation with the camera, from the 1920s to the 1950s. This was a quiet area of the market when John burst onto the scene in the early Nineties. People began talking when in 1993 he bought a vintage 1930 print of Man Ray’s Glass Tears, estimated at £20,000, for £112,500. “I thought I had gone stark raving mad,” he remembers. “But I had to have it…when you think of it now, it was a steal.”
Just six years later, a presentation copy of the print, of which there are only six known variants, was reportedly sold by US dealer Peter MacGill to Hyatt Hotel chain owner John Pritzker for somewhere in the region of $1.3 million – the first photograph to sell for over $1 million. Now it would be worth considerably more. Other highly valued works on display include Dorothea Lange’s moving depiction of the Great Depression, Migrant Mother, 1936, a print of which sold for $389,000 this year, and Herbert Bayer’s surreal self-portrait, Humanly Impossible, 1932, which has sold for $461,000.