“The true authenticity of photographs for me is that they usually manipulate and lie about what is in front of the camera, but never lie about the intentions behind the camera.” — Wolfgang Tillmans
A breakfast tray on the folding table on an American Airlines seat is provocatively garnished by the exposed penis of Tillmans's traveling companion. This is one of his many still lifes that consist of flowers, vegetables, underpants, undershirts, or other equally banal things, arranged to bring out their color contrasts. A party-devastated interior complete with scattered leftovers and waste, skillfully illuminated, becomes a feast for the eye. Not even slush dotted with the footprints of passersby escapes Tillmans's lens, In his Paper Drops (2004), he approaches a formal purism that recalls the New Vision of the 1920s.
Again and again Tillmans has turned his attention to people, beginning with pictures of nightlife in London clubs. The approaches of Andy Warhol, Nan Goldin, or Larry Clark may have encouraged him to focus on his friends and private milieu. A series of portraits resulted, and even the commissioned ones retained a personal, intimate character.
Then there is the Tillmans who records cloud formations, manipulates their colors, or draws veils over them (Intervention Pieces), the creator of ethereal images of hair-fine lines on a light ground (String Pieces; Freischwimmer) or of dust particles on toned backgrounds (Blushes). In other series he conceptually celebrates the intensity of various monochrome C-prints, made without a camera. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer from boyhood, Tillmans recorded the Venus transit of 8 June, 2004, in sublime photographs.
This is someone who retains freedom of choice of motifs, and continually rediscovers people, things, and situations with an unbiased eye. A cup of tea with a film of grease on it, mice creeping out of the sewer at night... Tilmanns effortlessly overcomes the conventional borderlines between genres, including that between "art" and photography. His exhibitions generally take the form of large-area arrangements of glass-framed C-prints and freely suspended inkjet prints of various format, with purposely disparate motifs and subjects, distributed along the walls according to a momentary whim. In addition, he presents exhibitions as "polyphonal processes," comprising newspaper cuttings, photocopies, and photographs on wooden tables under glass. These reflect the politically conscious and engaged side of Tilmanns's nature. Religious terror (For the Victims of Organized Religions, 2006), an inhuman economy dictated by shareholder value, homophobia and AIDS are themes that especially concern him.
Excerpt taken from 50 Photographers You Should Know by Peter Stepan