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‘You always find something different’: Sir Elton John on his love of photography

Sir Elton and David Furnish talk with Christie's Head of Photographs Darius Himes about the artists they love, including works in the 6 April auction in New York to benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation

‘A photograph brings me so much joy, they’re beautiful objects,’ says Sir Elton John, discussing a remarkable collection of 25 works by some of the world’s greatest photographers, to be offered at Christie’s in New York on 6 April 2017. Proceeds from the sale of these works will benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF), an international non-profit organisation founded by the celebrated recording artist 25 years ago with the mission of ending the AIDS epidemic. 

Commemorating the foundation’s 25th year, this special auction holds great personal significance for the Oscar and Grammy Award-winning star. ‘It’s my 70th birthday, and the 50th anniversary of my songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin,’ he explains.

Irving Penn (1917–2009), 1,000-Year-Old Eggs (A), New York, 2003. Signed, titled, dated and numbered 21578 in ink and stamped photographer’sCondé Nast copyright credit and edition (flush mount, verso). Imagesheetflush mount 30 x 23 in (76.2 x 58.4 cm). Estimate $20,000-30,000. This lot is offered in Photographs Including Property Sold to Benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation on

Irving Penn (1917–2009), 1,000-Year-Old Eggs (A), New York, 2003. Signed, titled, dated and numbered '21578' in ink and stamped photographer’s/Condé Nast copyright credit and edition (flush mount, verso). Image/sheet/flush mount: 30 x 23 in (76.2 x 58.4 cm). Estimate: $20,000-30,000. This lot is offered in Photographs Including Property Sold to Benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation on 6 April 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Artists and estates that have donated to the auction include Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Misrach and Cindy Sherman. ‘They’ve been amazingly generous,’ Sir Elton continues, acknowledging the consistent support his foundation has received from the creative industries. 

Filmed in his LA home, this interview offers a glimpse of some of the works in Sir Elton’s own collection, which is hailed as one of the greatest private collections in the world. He reveals it has been largely acquired while on tour and from galleries across the world. ‘You always find something different; that’s what I love about photography,’ he says. The exhibition Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection  is on show at Tate Modern in London until 21 May.

Richard Misrach (b.  1949), Untitled (February 14, 2012 620 PM), 2012. Signed, titled, dated and numbered 45 in ink on affixed artists label (frame backing board). Imagesheetflush mount 58½ x 78½ in (148.6 x 199.4 cm). Estimate $40,000-60,000. This lot is offered in Photographs Including Property Sold to Benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation on 6 April 2017 at Christie’s in

Richard Misrach (b. 1949), Untitled (February 14, 2012 6:20 PM), 2012. Signed, titled, dated and numbered '4/5' in ink on affixed artist's label (frame backing board). Image/sheet/flush mount: 58½ x 78½ in (148.6 x 199.4 cm). Estimate: $40,000-60,000. This lot is offered in Photographs Including Property Sold to Benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation on 6 April 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Championing new artists is also important to the singer and songwriter. ‘You could walk into someone’s first show and buy something you love for $1,500 and it can mean just as much to you as something you’d pay $100,000 for,’ he says.

Highlights from the sale at Christie’s include 1,000-Year-Old Eggs (A) — ‘a classic Irving Penn’, and a ‘fantastic’ work donated by Cindy Sherman, along with works by Richard Learoyd and Richard Misrach


Cindy Sherman (b.  1954), Untitled #554, 20102012. Signed, dated and numbered ‘710’ in ink and typed credit, title, date and number on affixed gallery labels (frame backing board). Image 23¼ x 34 in (59.1 x 86.4 cm); overall 24¼ x 35 in (61.6 x 88.9 cm). Estimate $60,000-80,000. This lot is offered in Photographs Including Property Sold to Benefit the Elton John AIDS

Cindy Sherman (b. 1954), Untitled #554, 2010/2012. Signed, dated and numbered ‘7/10’ in ink and typed credit, title, date and number on affixed gallery labels (frame backing board). Image: 23¼ x 34 in (59.1 x 86.4 cm); overall: 24¼ x 35 in (61.6 x 88.9 cm). Estimate: $60,000-80,000. This lot is offered in Photographs Including Property Sold to Benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation on 6 April 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Sir Elton describes another work — Backflip, Paradise Cove — as ‘one of the greatest Herb Ritts photographs of all time.’ Ritts became a close personal friend to the singer. ‘He took my photograph many, many times,’ he reminisces. ‘He was a big character.’


Herb Ritts (1952–2002), Backflip, Paradise Cove, 1987. Gelatin silver print signed, titled, dated and numbered ‘125’ in pencil (mount, verso). Image 19 x 15¼ in (48.3 x 38.7 cm), sheet 20 x 16 in (50.8 x 40.7 cm), mount 21½ x 17½ in (54.6 x 44.5 cm). This print is number 1 from the edition of 25 plus 3 artist’s proofs. This lot is offered in Photographs

Herb Ritts (1952–2002), Backflip, Paradise Cove, 1987. Gelatin silver print: signed, titled, dated and numbered ‘1/25’ in pencil (mount, verso). Image: 19 x 15¼ in (48.3 x 38.7 cm), sheet: 20 x 16 in (50.8 x 40.7 cm), mount: 21½ x 17½ in (54.6 x 44.5 cm). This print is number 1 from the edition of 25 plus 3 artist’s proofs. This lot is offered in Photographs Including Property Sold to Benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation on 6 April 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Herb Ritts’s inclusion in the sale is particularly fitting. ‘Great artists, including Mapplethorpe and Herb, were lost to AIDS,’ says Sir Elton. ‘They died so young, and their loss was so tragic. Herb’s work means he’s still supporting our work even though he’s not with us.’ David Furnish — EJAF’s Chairman — adds: ‘You can’t work in photography and not be touched by someone who was affected by HIV/AIDS.’ 

Richard Learoyd (b.  1966), Fragment (Harmony In White), 2012. Signed in ink on affixed artists label (flush mount, verso). Imagesheetflush mount 32 x 28¼ in (81.3 x 71.8 cm). Estimate $25,000-35,000. This lot is offered in Photographs Including Property Sold to Benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation on 6 April 2017 at Christie’s in New York

Richard Learoyd (b. 1966), Fragment (Harmony In White), 2012. Signed in ink on affixed artist's label (flush mount, verso). Image/sheet/flush mount: 32 x 28¼ in (81.3 x 71.8 cm). Estimate: $25,000-35,000. This lot is offered in Photographs Including Property Sold to Benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation on 6 April 2017 at Christie’s in New York

‘I’m very excited about the pieces,’ Sir Elton concludes. ‘It’s an amazing array of photographers and great work. There’s not one bad photograph in there at all — [they’re] things that if I didn’t already have, I’d buy.’