Wolfgang Tillmans b. 1968, Remscheid, Germany
image: 22 x 16 9/16 inches (55.9 x 42.1 cm); sheet: 24 x 20 inches (61 x 50.8 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Purchased with funds contributed by the Photography Committee, 2001
Wolfgang Tillmans's photographs of friends, dance raves, clubs, and night life have appeared regularly in London's i-D magazine and other publications since 1989. Though his work has had a tremendous impact on the studied casualness of much recent fashion photography, Tillmans is not a "fashion photographer." If anything he is a portraitist who often photographs his friends—who appear alternately tough, vulnerable, loving, ferocious, gay, and straight—in intimate situations. Though these probing images reflect his own subjective experiences, they also operate on a more general level, recording a specific dimension of our contemporary culture. Tillmans establishes a collaborative process with his models, whom he calls "accomplices." Thus the informal look of the works belies their choreographed construction. Landscape and still-life images also play a crucial role in his oeuvre, in which half-eaten fruit, sewer rats, crumpled clothing, or urban skylines are photographed with the same dignity and attention to beauty as his human subjects. Traditional subject genres are questioned; crumpled clothing might suggest a figure or landscape, while city scenes seen from the air resemble a still life of objects.
For Tillmans, the images are only half the work; the installation or layout constitutes its completion. He affixes his prints directly to the wall with pins or tape, juxtaposing old and new images of varying sizes and mediums. He eschews standard darkroom procedures, blurring the lines between color and black and white (printing black-and-white images on color paper, for instance). Color photographs are placed next to inkjet prints and next to postcards and magazine clippings of his own images, contesting conventional hierarchies of scale and subject matter while drawing focus to the materiality of the photographic medium—all within a carefully composed environment that seems to disdain permanency.