Wolfgang Tillmans

Following Assignment 2: Collections, my tutor suggested I look at the work of Wolfgang Tillmans, with his unconventional approach to collections and exhibitions, and write my opinion here.

It’s taken me a while to get around to this, but here we go.

Without paying attention to the actual images, Tillmans’ approach to exhibiting his work is very interesting. Rather than maintaining a uniform size, or format, he arranges his works in thoughtful juxtapositions to each other. So a very large print depicting a particular subject may sit alongside an arrangement of much smaller images depicting an entirely different subject.

In this way, colour images may appear in the same exhibition as black and white.  Abstract may sit near portrait.

I like it.

He doesn’t so much break the rules, as create a completely new set of rules of his own. This allows for a much wider variety of subject matters and styles to be displayed in one place, while still maintaining the overarching theme… how he sees the world.

Of the images themselves Tillmans says ‘I want the pictures to look like the way I see things, which is not to be confused with standard notions of authenticity.’ (Tillmans 2002, cited in Bright, 2002:117)

Some of these, like the images of socks laying on the floor, I get what he is saying. The abstract images, while aesthetically pleasing, I find a little more difficult to relate to. Given that they are products of the process of making photographs through chemical means, where I am really only familiar with digital work, I suppose that is understandable.

Tillmans’ images of the male form can vary between subtle suggestion, right through to what might be bordering on homoeroticism. Even on the more subtle images, it’s as if the lens is looking at aspects of the male form, and lingering on specific details, in a way that I, or any non-specific heterosexual male might look at an attractive woman.

The result is… I find myself feeling uncomfortable. I am not repulsed. But I don’t enjoy it. However, it’s my opinion that any image that can provoke any kind of response is a good one. And more, an image that provokes an uncomfortable shudder is a more accomplished image than one that produces nothing more than “oh… that’s nice”.

All in all, I appreciate the skill involved in representing aspects of the world in a certain way. I recognise the artistry, and respect it. Do I enjoy it or care to emulate it in any way? Not so much. These is an aesthetic language being used here that is alien to my own internal visual vocabulary. It leaves me cold.


Bright, S. (2002) Art Photography Now London: Thames & Hudson.