Wolfgang Tillmans' cosmic worldview

The German photographer explains how an early love of stargazing informed his wide-ranging world view
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Icestorm (2001) by Wolfgang Tillmans
Icestorm (2001) by Wolfgang Tillmans

A lily cut and placed in a mineral water bottle; a young man standing in a convenience store in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; the wing of a car; a fly eating the flesh left behind in a cracked lobster shell. What common view of the world draws these diverse images together? A cosmological desire to show the variety of life on earth accurately and impartially says photographer Wolfgang Tillmans.

 

Astro Crusto, A (2012) by Wolfgang Tillmans
Astro Crusto, A (2012) by Wolfgang Tillmans

In an illuminating interview with The Japan News to promote his Affinity show, on at Wako Works of Art, Roppongi, Tokyo (on until 15 March), Tillmans explains how an adolescent interest in stargazing informed his more recent earthbound photography.

 

Podium (1999) by Wolfgang Tillmans
Podium (1999) by Wolfgang Tillmans

Tillmans first found fame as a fashion and club photographer during the 1990s, shooting events like the Berlin Love Parade for lifestyle magazines such as i-D. However, as he explains, after this initial flush of success he felt he should slow down the rate at which he produced pictures. "I spent the 2000s very much working with the medium [of photographs], and bringing to the forefront both the object of the photograph and the materiality," Tillmans tells the paper.

 

In Flight Astro (II) (2010) Wolfgang Tillmans
In Flight Astro (II) (2010) Wolfgang Tillmans

It was around this point that his interest in earth's place within the universe was rekindled. "Life on the surface of this planet is actually connected to the planet, which is to say that it is not separated," he says. "We always speak about 'life' and 'the world.' But that's where I suddenly had this realisation with these words, "Life is Astronomical'-not astronomical in scale, but considering life as just one real part of this planet. It can't be separated."

 

Wald (Briol I) (2008) by Wolfgang Tillmans
Wald (Briol I) (2008) by Wolfgang Tillmans

We might think of the changing of the seasons or the migratory patterns of birds as appropriate planetary, biological phenomena, yet Tillmans seems to suggest that we should just as readily regard a kid in a cornershop on the Arabian peninsular as an image of life on earth.

 

Young Man, Jeddah (B) (2012) by Wolfgang Tillmans
Young Man, Jeddah (B) (2012) by Wolfgang Tillmans

"This has been the interest for me: How can I make pictures that describe the world in a way that is nonjudgmental, but that at the same time speaks very clearly?" he says.

It's an interesting, clear-sighted insight into one of the world's most engaging fine-art photographers. Read the full piece here; find out more about the photographic show here; and pre-order our newly updated Tillmans monograph, here.


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