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Wolfgang Tillmans
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Wikipedia About Wolfgang Tillmans

Wolfgang Tillmans (born 1968 in Remscheid) is a German Fine-art photographer and artist. Tillmans lives in Berlin and London. His comprehensive and diverse body of work is distinguished by observation of his surroundings and an ongoing investigation of the photographic medium’s foundations. In 2000, Tillmans was the first photographer and also the first non-English artist to be awarded the Turner Prize. In 2009, he was awarded the Kulturpreis der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Photographie (The Culture Prize of the German Society for Photography). Full Wikipedia Article

essay Wolfgang Tillmans, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Wolfgang Tillmans’ photographic career began in Hamburg, Germany, in the late 1980s, when the rhythm of his life resulted in photographs of the local club scene that found their way into such pivotal British lifestyle publications as The Face and I.D. From the start, there was something remarkably personal in his images; it would have been impossible to imagine such photographs being taken by anyone other than a participant or an intimate. The private moments shot by Tillmans rebuff any sense of the documentary; they are simply too involved to be neutralized as coverage. From the club work came fashion assignments that exploded notions about appropriate models, hip styling, and product display, which remain influential more than a decade later. When these pivotal images were first published, Tillmans was a student at Bournemouth Art College, where he studied from 1990 to 1992.

As his career moved steadily from commercial assignments to exhibitions, Tillmans did not differentiate between works past and present. What changed were groupings and image scale. A constantly evolving family of photographs continued to tell new stories through the artist’s creation of a shifting hierarchy of relationships. This highly edited approach led away from traditional photographic display into nuanced, emotionally dense installations in which works of differing print sizes are push-pinned into conversations both abstract and emotional. He is also one of the foremost book designers in the art world.

Over the years, Tillmans has held very close to his world, which includes friends and lovers, parties that are very over, sex (mostly gay but maybe not), landscapes (often with animals), streetscapes, and increasingly, abstractions that are lovely and liquid and look like they live in our veins. Speaking of his work, shortly after winning the Turner Prize in 2003, Tillmans attempted to define his mission: “At age ten I found this little book on astronomy, and for the next four years I was totally driven by astronomy—each year I had to get a bigger telescope. I was counting the sunspots every day, and going to amateur astronomical conventions. And it was this sense of positioning myself that has been my most fundamental interest. It gives me a feeling of not being alone, of being grounded. And looking at the truth, and finding comfort in truth. You were asking the essence of my work—maybe to find comfort in truth.”1

The title for Tillmans’ 2003 retrospective at the Tate Britain was if one thing matters, everything matters and, indeed, looking at the body of work, one can see his attention to knowing the essence of what is being photographed; it may well be a world of randomness, but this artist is loitering with intent.

  1. Quoted in Lynn Barber, “The Joy of Socks,” The Observer Magazine (London), January 5, 2003, 14.

Flood, Richard. “Wolfgang Tillmans.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center