Wolfgang Tillmans is a young photographer making a big name for himself. He photographs people he knows in real places. Robert Montgomery talked to him about his ideas and inspirations.
The first thing about Wolfgang Tillmans is that i think i recognise him. Maybe not him exactly. but his 'look' — cropped hair. camouﬂage trousers. Birkenstock sandals. he seerus familiar. He looks like some of the people he photographs. Tillmans photographs have appeared regularly in H) magazine since I989 and he‘s also worked for The Face and currently for Interview. it is strange that you can form a relations/tip with the images in the magazines that you grow up with. But it's true. When you see Tillmans‘ pictures in an art gallery you can relate to them because you‘ve already seen them in magazines. left them lying around your bathroom ﬂoor. lived with them. This gives them a head start on most serious art. and yes Tillmans‘ pictures are serious art.
He portrays here and now — after hours outside clubs in Berlin. Gay Pride marches. animal rights demos. people hanging out in ﬂats in New York. London. Hamburg. Boumemouth. The images do work as fashion photography but they go much further. Tillmans explains that the working environment at i-[) allowed him to develop his honest style. The magazine has always allowed elements of real-life to invade their world of glamour in a way that most magazines would be afraid to publish. Corrine Day. for example. set pale adolescents in a practically empty council flat: they weren't wearing much and just looked bored. Within months Elle and Vogue were devoting pages to pale. adolescent Kate Moss — hanging around not wearing much and just looking bored.
Subcultural identity. adolescence. street style whatever you want to call it. magazines like i-D have brought something of the ﬂavour and sensibility of underground British youth culture into the mainstream. Tillmans is bringing these subcultural identities into the art world with the same kind of honesty. As well as Stills this year he’s showing at Kunsthalle, Zurich. Portikus. Frankfurt and the Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York. He
explains. ‘There is an interest in the art world for subculture whenever they are saturated by their own high art culture. it‘s to do with necessity.‘
Though Tillmans adds that. ‘It pisses me offa bit that my subjects only get regarded as representatives of subculture. For me. primarily they are people.‘ This is where Tillmans’ work surpasses the work of his peers most
Tillmans work surpasses the work of his peers — there is an Intimacy, maybe an emotional involvement with his subjects
that is rare in both fashion and art photography.
clearly — there is an intimacy. maybe an emotional involvement with his subjects that is rare in both fashion and art photography. He is not trying to document any subculture as an anthropologist. that is from the outside: he's recording the people he hangs out with - ‘l take photographs of friends or people i want to be friends with.‘ The intimacy in his work recalls Nan Goldin’s documentation of her friends growing up through hard times. drugs
and into middle age in her powerful
Contemporary portrait: Alex and Alex, London 1993
photo-books The Ballad ofSexual Depemlencv and Parallel Lives.
Like Goldin. when sex appears in Tillmans‘ work. and it does. you are aware that the subjects have complex emotional and intellectual lives. His sexually explicit work is at the opposite end of the spectrum from exploitation. it is humanist and sympathetic.
Although people recur in his images. Tillmans points out that he is not trying to tell the story of a particular group. He‘s interested in a wider appeal. ‘The shots of our trashed ﬂat after a party are there because l'm interested in its universal qualities.’ and. if you've ever shared a student flat and had a really good party you‘ll remember scenes like these from the haze of the moming after.
Tillmans explains that he wants to do honest contemporary versions of ‘The Portrait‘. ‘The Still-life‘. ‘The Landscape' and ‘The Figure-study‘ with “a very conscious informality.’ He doesn’t see himself as making a crossover from media to art because for him. he‘s always been an artist. He was drawn to magazines because he’s ‘always been a magazine junkie too‘. The only way. he explains. to overcome
Four unmissible shows to look out for this Festival
I Andres Serrano — The Morgue and
. Other Works The tabloids have called it
‘filthy' and the so-callcd guardians of our moral welfare are up in arms. Difficult. challenging photographs that force us to confront our perceptions of death. Portfolio Gallery. until 2.? Sept. I Edinburgh College of Art — Festival Shows including a homage to Joseph Beuys by Danish artist Herming Christiansen and Bread and Salt. a mixed show of work from Lithuania. Edinburgh College of/l rt. until 2 Sept. I Wolfgang Tillmans Photographs from one of Europe's most talented young photographers. Working for magazines such as i-D and Interview. Tillmans has photographed his conternpories in their everyday surroundings. See review. Stills Gallery. until 23 Sept.
I From London Painters of the London school including Kitaj. Freud. Auerbach. Kossoff. Bacon and Andrews. Big. dynamic painting. Goose pimples guaranteed. Seoul's/i National Gallery of Modern Art. until 5 Sept.
the barrier between art and mass media is ‘by not accepting that there is one‘. Tillmans is able to communicate in both arenas on his own terms. His work seems to say something poignant about our lives at the end of the 90s, something that is personal but also political. He says that he documents his own personal and political interests. but in the end it is as much about how we all represent ourselves. how we communicate. ‘ln the portraits i want to reconcile the contradictions within our identity between real self and represented self.‘ This, he says. can only be really appreciated when you realise how difficult it is to ‘l'rnd your own image‘ in our culture: ‘That‘s what the people 1 photograph are trying to do‘. Tillmans‘ direct and honest approach might help to solve our collective identity crisis. This will be one of the most accessible and profound exhibitions ofthe Festival. Go and find yourself. Wolfgang Yillmans. Still Gallery. 12 Aug—23 Sept.
The List 18-24 Aug 1995 75