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Wolfgang Tillmans (born 16 August 1968) is a German photographer. Tillmans has influenced more than just a way of taking pictures – his impact on a generation’s way of seeing has resonated down the line, snowballing through 90s counterculture into a contemporary art-school mainstream. His diverse body of work is distinguished by observation of his surroundings and an ongoing investigation of the photographic medium’s foundations.

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Tillmans was the first photographer – and also the first non-British person – to be awarded the Tate annual Turner Prize. He has also been awarded the Hasselblad Award, the Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition's Charles Wollaston Award, The Culture Prize of the German Society for Photography, and is a member of the Royal Academy of Arts. Tillmans first experimented with photography in 1987 by enlarging found photographs with a photocopier. He bought his first camera the following year. In the late 1980s he immersed himself in the club scene and gay nightlife in Hamburg and began taking pictures at that time. 


"Photography has this incredibly powerful ability to make something tangible, a moment in life that then tells a greater truth – that the world would be poorer, or at least culture would be poorer if - that [truth] wasn’t added into the cultural dialogue.



















He submitted those photographs to the British magazine of fashion and contemporary culture i-D, which published them. He continued to publish his work in that magazine into the 21st century. In 1990 he moved to Bournemouth, England, to study art for two years at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design. He settled in London in 1992 and the next year exhibited an unframed photograph from his Lutz & Alex series—casual portraits of two decidedly androgynous friends—at Unfair, an art fair in Cologne for emerging artists. As a result of that exhibition, his career took off in Europe.


"For a long time in Britain, there was a deep suspicion of my work. People saw me as a commercial artist trying to get into the art world, and the work was dismissed as shallow or somehow lightweight. There are still many misconceptions about what I do – that my images are random and every day when they are actually neither.

They are, in fact, the opposite. They are calls to attentiveness.


Tillmans’ unique visual style, quite apart from giving his works texture and granting them ‘art’ status, uses subjectivity as leverage against re-contextualisation. He precludes the possibility of his pictures’ misrepresentation by the unscrupulous through their scrupulous precision.  In 1997 Tillmans created a now well-known series of seemingly mundane images documenting the last month in the life of his partner, Jochen Klein, who died of AIDS. Following Klein’s death, which had a notable impact on the photographer, Tillmans’s work gained a stronger political angle, and he became a more vocal advocate for the LGBTQ communities.


Wolfgang Tillmans, Fest, Galerie Buchholz, Cologne, Germany, 2 February 2018 – 7 April 2018


In 2000 Tillmans was the first photographer as well as the first non-British artist to win the Turner Prize, presented annually to a contemporary artist by Tate Britain. He was recognized with the prize for both his photography and his inventive exhibition design. Tillmans was deeply involved in the display of his work (in print or exhibition). He often organized his photographs in the form of a grid on white gallery walls, sometimes framed and sometimes hung with clips, tape, or pushpins.

In the early 2000s Tillmans experimented with photographic processes to create abstracted works. The series Freischwimmer (2000– ) was made without using a camera. Instead, Tillmans worked with chemicals on photographic paper to create colourful swirling images that he then enlarged on an ink-jet printer for the exhibition. Other series of abstract works include Silver (1998– ), Blushes (2000– ), and Lighter (2005), the latter of which takes on three-dimensionality. In 2014 Tillmans travelled to Russia, where he interviewed and photographed a number of members of St. Petersburg’s gay community, who told personal stories of ostracism by antigay laws. He published their stories and portraits in a special activism issue of i-D magazine.


"The formal or conceptual ways in which Tillmans seeks to express a truth in his pictures seem to circle back, at least in part, to a fundamental respect for the power of photography as a medium.


Tillmans’s work has been recognized with numerous exhibitions, including a retrospective at Tate Britain in 2003 (“If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters”), a travelling retrospective organized in 2006 by Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and two more in 2012, one at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and the other at the Museum of Modern Artin São Paulo. In 2015 he won the Hasselblad Award, presented annually to an outstanding contemporary photographer by the Hasselblad Foundation. Beginning in 2006, he operated and curated Between Bridges, a non-profit gallery located in London through 2011 and in Berlin since 2014. Also in 2017, he had a big solo show at the Foundation Beyeler. 

If you're curious about artists who have drawn inspiration from Tillmans’s work take a glance at Jennifer Abessira - Filippo Minelli - Giuseppe Lo Schiavo, etc...


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