You Can Now Go and See Elton John’s Impressive Photography Collection

Left side: A person with windblown hair holding a cup rides in the back of a truck in a desert landscape. Right side: A person in a suit with sunny-side-up eggs covering their eyes sits at a colorful table with a cup of orange juice and papers.
Left: Ryan McGinley, Dakota Hair, 2004 © Ryan McGinley Studios. Right: David LaChapelle, Elton John, Egg On His Face, New York, 1999 © David LaChapelle

Over 300 prints from Elton John and husband David Furnish’s extensive photography collection which numbers over 7,000 works have gone on exhibit in London this past weekend.

Titled Fragile Beauty, the show at the V&A museum features over 140 photographers including Diane Arbus, Ai Weiwei, Sally Mann, Cindy Sherman, William Eggleston, Irving Penn, and many others.

A black-and-white profile photograph of a person wearing a dark hat, glasses, and a suit. The individual has one hand raised to their neck, showing a watch on their wrist and a ring on their finger. The image has a contemplative and reflective mood.
Eve Arnold, Malcolm X, Chicago, Illinois, USA, 1962 © Eve Arnold Magnum Photos
A black-and-white photo shows a person playing a trumpet. The individual is holding the trumpet high, with the mouthpiece pressed to their lips. They are wearing a light-colored short-sleeve shirt, and their face is partially obscured by their hands and the instrument.
Herman Leonard, Chet Baker, New York City, 1956 © Herman Leonard Photography, LLC
Black and white image of a person standing in front of a tall brick building. They are wearing a scarf tied under their chin and a helmet-like accessory. The building features arched windows and an ornate entrance.
Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #17, 1978 © Cindy Sherman, courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth Gallery

The British pop icon tells Vogue that he became interested in photography just as he was leaving rehab after achieving sobriety.

“While Elton jumps in feet first,” says Furnish, “I love to know everything about the artist, the series, and their overall work and how all of that culminates to the piece in front of us.”

However, John says he has learned how to become more patient when hunting down a particular print, citing his search for Diane Arbus’ iconic Child With a Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, NYC which he says took years to find the perfect vintage print.

Two shirtless individuals are standing close together in a dimly lit room. One faces away, showing a red, sunburnt back and sparkly jewelry. The other faces the camera, wearing makeup with bold eyeshadow and red lipstick, and has a hand resting on the other's shoulder.
Nan Goldin, Jimmy Paulette and Taboo! In the Bathroom, 1991 © Nan Goldin. Courtesy of Nan Goldin and Gagosian
A man with a solemn expression is sitting indoors, wearing a dark coat. Light from a circular window behind him illuminates his face, highlighting the tear tracks on his cheeks. The background features tiled walls and blurred details, emphasizing his emotional state.
Sam Taylor-Johnson, Crying Men (Laurence Fishburne), 2002 © Sam Taylor-Johnson
Black and white photo of two women sitting at a diner counter. Both are drinking milkshakes, one with a straw and the other with a spoon. The woman on the right appears to be stirring her shake. Various diner items are on the counter, like a napkin holder and a sugar dispenser.
Bruce Davidson, Black Americans. New York City. 1962 © Bruce Davidson Magnum Photos
A person with long, wind-swept hair sits in the back of a moving vehicle, holding a cup with both hands. The background features a desert landscape and clear blue skies.
Ryan McGinley, Dakota Hair, 2004 © Ryan McGinley Studios

The exhibition, which will be on until January next year, follows on from a smaller exhibit John hosted at the Tate Modern in London in 2016.

Fragile Beauty marks 30 years of the singer’s collecting habit and it showcases the couple’s personal taste in photography. John tells Vogue that he knows instantly when he first sets eyes on a picture.

“The image must grab me the first moment I see it to have it join the collection. If the work is powerful enough, then I will have an emotional response immediately, whether it’s humor or desire or sadness,” he says.

“I’d hope that the viewer walks away not only inspired but also with an understanding of how David and I collect, how we want our collection to represent where photography was and where it is heading.”

A shirtless young person with short, curly hair gazes into the distance while sitting on grass. A bee is perched on the tip of their nose. In the background, there are purple flowers and greenery. The person's expression appears thoughtful or contemplative.
Tyler Mitchell, Simply Fragile, 2022 © Tyler Mitchell. Courtesy of the artist
A person in a navy suit and light purple pants sits at a small table with a bowl of cereal in hand, wearing glasses shaped like fried eggs. The scene is in a room with brown walls and blue trim, with a table that has a newspaper, orange juice, and a plate of toast.
David LaChapelle, Elton John, Egg On His Face, New York, 1999 © David LaChapelle

Many photographs in John’s collection have LGBTQ+ themes; images taken by Nan Goldin and Ryan McGinley as well as artists Robert Mapplethorpe and Peter Hujar who both died from AIDS.

The expo also features a portrait of John taken by David LaChapelle; a humorous image that features a literal egg on his face.

Fragile Beauty: Photographs from the Sir Elton John and David Furnish Collection is on at the V&A Museum in South Kensington, London until January 2025.

Image credits: Photoraphers credited. Images courtesy of the V&A Museum.