“I want the pictures to be working in both directions. I accept that they speak about me, and yet at the same time, I want and expect them to function in terms of the viewer and their experience.” A spotlight on one of the most influential photographers working today, Wolfgang Tillmans, who in 2000, was awarded the prestigious Turner Prize, marking the first time the prize had been awarded to a photographer or non-British artist.
The German born artist and photographer named as the “the documentarian of his generation”. Tillmans with his works is responsible for having overturned and questioned the way in which photography was perceived, constantly challenging the senses of the observer as most of his photographs appeared casual shots even if they were thoroughly staged. He gave an authentic overview of the youth, queer community and clubbing culture and became famous using his schoolmates as models, Alex and Lutz, their portraits got to be considered the face of the 90’s and had been published on the pages of ì-D and and shown in multiple art exhibitions. His pictures are a sentimental autobiography: Tillmans gave fresh pair of eyes on the life of young people and a different take on fashion photography, mixing female and male clothes unsuitable for the context, and displaying poetic exploration of nudity, as seen in the photo of the 92 “Lutz and Alex sitting in the tree”. Tillmans’s gaze on club culture seems to materialize the psychedelic experiences given by lights and ecstasy, bringing bright colours and strong contrasts while the abuse of flash into the photos, created unpredictably peaceful pictures. By reporting reality his photographs became strongly political: they enhance gay culture while dealing with the fragility of life in a creative way. On how AIDS impacted his work, Tillmans narrates it through art, especially after the loss of his partner due to HIV complications. His artistic genius is expressed with schizophrenia and extreme curiosity in experimentation on photography: overlapping images through postproduction, with the artistic use of printer, by portraying the reactions between light and photo chemicals and photographing from space as well as realising poetic and simple still life shots. As Tilmanns said :“thee eyes are subversive” and they can detect the values in everything from the most expensive to the humblest of subjects, because everything might have a hidden and intimate meaning that if shown in the right way, can be visible to everyone.
Words: Silvia Valente / @silviavalentevi