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Wolfgang Tillmans Photo

Wolfgang Tillmans

German Photographer

Born: August 16, 1968 - Remscheid, West Germany
"I take pictures, in order to see the world."
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Wolfgang Tillmans Signature
"Photography was really the last medium I wanted to explore."
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Wolfgang Tillmans Signature
"I never felt like I'm behind the camera, but it became a fluid way of expression, I was able to enact things in front of the camera and so it is a performed reality."
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Wolfgang Tillmans Signature
"It's important to keep on dancing."
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Wolfgang Tillmans Signature
"I am more into shifting the centre ground. I never wanted to be a so-called gay artist, for instance, even though homosexuality is there in my work, but as an everyday thing. It wasn't about representing 'the other'."
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Wolfgang Tillmans Signature
"I was not recording the world around me or my tribe or whatever."
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Wolfgang Tillmans Signature
"I have always looked at the nuances of everyday things because I feel that is a political responsibility, too - to look in an open, unprejudiced, fearless way at the world around you."
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"Many artists try to predict what will look good forever. It's impossible. There is only the here and now."
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Wolfgang Tillmans Signature
"What is at work in every picture of mine is a mixture of actively doing something, encouraging a picture, while also letting it happen - letting chance play a role."
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"The camera is my tool to answer the question, can I do a picture of this?"
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"A photograph always lies about what is in front of the camera, but never about what is behind it."
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"I don't mean it as everything is the same, but that everything has the potential to be something, and that one should not close one's eyes, just because we have performed ideas about a value system - this is higher, this is lower. One shouldn't use it in reverse, as 'anything goes'."
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Wolfgang Tillmans Signature
"The reality was there and it was put there."
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Wolfgang Tillmans Signature
"Every successful picture I've done has really been based on taking a very flimsy, fleeting little idea, grabbing hold of it, and taking it seriously."
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Wolfgang Tillmans Signature
"Your eyes are free and you are free to use them."
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"The medium of photography is a recorder, it's a translator, it translates the effects of light on the surface of film and photographic paper."
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Wolfgang Tillmans Signature
"This is a picture not of anything in the world, but a picture of its own making."
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Wolfgang Tillmans Signature

Summary of Wolfgang Tillmans

Wolfgang Tillmans proclaims that he makes "Pictures, in order to see the world." But what he really does is utilize the medium of photography to increase our attentiveness of the world around us. He originally found fame through his photos for the seminal fashion and culture magazine i-D, in which he illuminated his LGBT+ lifestyle within the UK youth club and nightlife scene in ways that made gay life accessible to the mainstream. But he would go on to experiment with the medium of photography to expound upon the concepts of "seeing" in new ways to jostle us from the habit of taking things for granted, or at merely face value, oftentimes highlighting political and social issues that were of particular concern to him. Today, his work is known for taking the shocking or the marginalized and making it matter of fact through the simple act of exposure. He avoids ascribing any conclusions to his work and thus subjects his photographic vision to a perpetual re-contextualization.

Accomplishments

  • Tillmans' diverse body of work encompasses a wide array of photographic practices yet the common theme that weaves throughout is a distinguishable ongoing investigation of his own surroundings and concerns at any given moment. He has said, "I myself felt not represented by the photography around at the time, so I had to make my own language and codes to express what life felt like to me."
  • Tillmans' photographic practice ranges across a wide array of genres. Yet his portraits, still lifes, sky photographs, astrophotography, aerial shots, and complex installations are all equally motivated by aesthetic and political interests, particularly in relationship to homosexuality and gender identity.
  • Tillmans also maintains a strong studio practice that encompasses both darkroom and digital experimentation. This practice, working with material, chemicals, equipment, paper, and light continues to allow for elements of surprise in his ongoing investigation of image structuring and restructuring.
  • Continuing to use his own life as a basis for art, Tillmans' interests have allowed for creative forays extending beyond the photographic and into the worlds of music and video, in which he often collaborates with friends.

Biography of Wolfgang Tillmans

Wolfgang Tillmans Photo

Born in the small manufacturing town of Remscheid in West Germany, Wolfgang Tillmans had a quiet childhood marked by visits to the Museum Ludwig in Cologne where he first saw the work of Gerhard Richter, Robert Rauschenberg, and Sigmar Polke. In 1983, after a stint as a foreign exchange student in England, he became enamored with British Youth culture. Within its welcoming atmosphere, he found the encouragement to come out as gay in 1984. By the next year, he had already had his first AIDS scare. "That's actually crazy," he said recounting the experience, "when you think of a 17-year-old schoolboy lying in bed thinking he's going to die."

Important Art by Wolfgang Tillmans

Lutz & Alex Sitting In the Trees (1992)

Fresh out of Bournemouth College of Art and Design and newly residing in London, Wolfgang Tillmans made a series of portraits of his lifelong friends Lutz and Alex in various states of undress. Ambivalent and laconic, Lutz & Alex sitting in trees depicts the androgynous couple sitting naked on tree branches, each donning wide open raincoats revealing their bare chests. It questions gender and sexuality without fully acknowledging either. As Liz Jobey described for The Guardian, "As a couple they look naive yet knowing, an Adam and Eve for the ecstasy generation."

While the photograph seems oddly candid, Tillmans claims otherwise, "the reality was there and it was put there." It questions the way artists approach fine-art photography, eschewing conceptions of naturality by employing the techniques of fashion photography to everyday subjects. They are, "re-enactments of potentially real situations"

Tillmans challenged conceptions about fine art photography and blurred the lines between photographic naturalism and studio photography, influencing a new generation of photographers like Alec Soth. In doing so, photographs like Lutz & Alex sitting in trees helped define contemporary culture of the 90s.

truth study center (2005-Present)

Reacting to the Iraq War and the presidency of George W. Bush, truth study center explores the quagmires of Western neoliberalism and religious fundamentalism with "photocopies of erroneous information, juxtaposed with political texts written with great analytical clarity," and, "absurdities, humour and photographs of religious and everyday situations." Part lab and part archive, Tillmans "was driven by the realisation that many global problems have resulted from false proclamations of absolute truths," as he described in an editorial written for the Guardian in 2018. By combining a wide variety of mediums, he constructs a scenario that depicts and analyzes this tendency, while also, by extension, diagnoses it.

The work has been shown in different venues, each time containing new content, each incarnation lending a slightly different focus. In this way, the work has grown along with the proliferation of "fake-news" and tries to more adequately confront this phenomenon. Most recently, the piece has morphed into book form as What Is Different. It confronts the idea of the "backfire effect," in which a person is shown evidence against one of their beliefs, but becomes more convinced in their falsehood rather than changing their viewpoint.

This work is an extension of Tillmans' earlier groundbreaking installations of taped prints and pinned magazine spreads, but goes a step further by taking the work off the wall, displaying art as artifact, and in doing so shifting our perception of the work as visual evidence. Tillmans mixes more than mediums with truth study center, he mixes disciplines, creating a new approach to art and study which expands the opportunity for understanding. The viewer is an invited into this experiment, making their own connections and conclusions, becoming a participant in the lab, and flattening the hierarchies between objects, an extension of Tillmans 2003 aphorism, "If one thing matters, then everything matters."

paper drop (window) (2006)

In paper drop (window), we see a sheet of photo paper curled over itself, almost unidentifiable, illuminated with green light reminiscent of the sea, and pierced at the center by cool white light. From the title, we can assume this light is an open window, but it is not defined as such by any other indicators. The single sheet of photo paper is carefully rendered as sculptural - possessing weight - but returned to the picture plane, made flat by being photographed.

Tillmans has always had an ambivalent relationship with photography. His work began on photocopiers, and part of his practice has always been looking at ways to circumvent the camera. In 2001, Tillmans returned to this kind of process-based image making, experimenting with creating "cameraless photographs" by letting the silver salt stains and dust of a dirty processor create, "a picture not of anything in the world, but a picture of its own making." Later, he would project colored light onto bent and curled photo paper then develop the results into dreamy, Mark Rothko-like fields of color. Ultimately, this would lead to the paper drop series where he would inverse the process of photography by photographing darkroom paper folded and lit by colored lights, recording light sensitizing paper rather than the imprint left by light on the sensitized medium.

Tillmans questions and reaffirms our expectations of photography in the same work. It is abstract, but still representational, utilizing traditional photographic materials to make a sculpture that is then made back into a photograph; a meta execution of photography, self-referential and recursive. These processes question the subjectivity of photography and reaffirm the expressive qualities of the medium. They also position Tillmans as a Conceptual artist, not just a great seer, in his, "taking a very flimsy, fleeting little idea, grabbing hold of it, and taking it seriously."

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Wolfgang Tillmans
Influenced by Artist
Artists
  • No image available
    Tess Robey
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    Erdem Moralioglu
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    Isa Genzken
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    Alec Soth
Friends & Personal Connections
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    Frank Ocean
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    Billie Ray Martin
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Egon Schiele

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Nichols

"Wolfgang Tillmans Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Egon Schiele
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Nichols
Available from:
First published on 16 Sep 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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