The work of Wolfgang Tillmans resists all notions of continuity and orthodoxy.

Wolfgang Tillmans: a completely unique approach to photography

Gilles Bechet

When, close-up and casual, he began to photograph the raves and the alternative youth scene of London and Berlin in the 1980s and 1990s, Wolfgang Tillmans’s images had a way of bringing people together while also celebrating their differences.

Wolfgang Tillmans sees photography as an exchange, a social art form, in direct and empathic contact with reality. Through his portraits, still lifes, fashion photography, landscapes, and abstract compositions, he has never stopped asking himself what the true essence of photography is. A major artist, his work is somewhere between the detached gaze of German objective photography and the immersion in the margins of society practised by proponents of American subjective photography.

Constantly evolving, his approach reflects a new contemporary subjectivity that combines personal engagement and critical detachment from the world, whose norms and social values he exposes with incisiveness. Resistant to all notions of continuity and visual and technical orthodoxy, his work transcends and alternates genres, subjects, techniques, from photocopying to infrared, and strategies for his exhibitions, which he always conceives as a coherent whole. With a form that seems to follow the rules of amateur photography of the kind that is generated spontaneously on social media, his work questions the validity of creating images in a visually oversaturated world.

Playing with small and large formats, framed and unframed prints, accompanied by personal commentary, he makes his exhibitions into a complete work in which he explores the photographed image in relation to its status as an object. For his first monographic exhibition in Belgium, he has brought together groups of previously unseen photographs, video installations, and sound pieces.

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