Photographer Wolfgang Tillman’s recently exploded when an interviewer suggested his work had a ‘snapshot’ style. But looking through Tillmans’ latest book—his third to date—his defining characteristics of deceptive simplicity and causal beauty undeniably show a rigorous ‘snapshot’ aesthetic. From a still life of his neatly paired socks, 2002, to his friend ‘Anders’ 2004 cycling through the woods, Tillmans manages to fill the mundane with a strange accidental grace, though in reality his work is a carefully orchestrated affair.
The subtlety of his artistry is perhaps even more evident in this monograph than in the exhibition it accompanies. While exhibition work has been displayed under glass next to installations of rocks and newspaper clippings, the images in the book experience a certain democracy, all being set to the same size as the page. As a result, attention is drawn towards content rather than format; within the uniform dimensions delicate rhythms and recurring shapes shyly emerge. Turning the pages through the chapter of his abstract darkroom experiments, ‘Freischimmen’ series (2004), the experience of colour is isolated and celebrated. And despite lurid reports of his more salacious nudes, Tillmans includes only a few naked portraits, choosing instead the implication of queerness in sensuous and phallic shapes.
From his early reputation in the late 1980s to the present, his candid style has led to inevitable comparisons with Nan Goldin: they both appear to traverse the boundaries of the public and the private, inhabiting their respective viewfinders, and sliding easily between the roles of photographer and subject. But while Goldin chases after the essence of her subjects and hoards up her reminiscences for posterity, Tillmans eschews her endeavour, claiming ‘I am not gathering memories. The point is not to possess or experience something by seizing it with the camera’.
Minoru Shimizu’s essay alone has the unenviable job of trying to find that distinctive ‘thing’ that makes a Tillmans’ a Tillmans’. And, given the task of limning a photographer who has such a youthfully ambitious range of subject matter, Shimizu does remarkably well, even if his obsessive lists and subdivided themes makes for a rather tiring read. Further essays would have better complemented the work of such a voracious eye that remains unfettered and a style that, even now, appears to be gathering pace.
Isla Leaver-Yap is editorial assistant on MAP