Wolfgang Tillmans was initially known for his seemingly casual, sometimes snapshotlike portraits of friends (most notably, fashion designer Lutz Huelle and fellow artist Alexandra Bircken) and other youth in his immediate surroundings and scene. His photos – from the Europride in London (1992) or the Love Parade in Berlin (1992) for example – appeared in magazines such as i-D, Spex, Interview, SZ-Magazin and Butt-Magazine, and have established his reputation as a prominent witness of a contemporary social movement. He was made co-editor of Spex in 1997. For the Index Magazine, he shot covers and assignments, including images of John Waters, Gilbert & George, and Udo Kier.
Tillmans was considered the “documentarian of his generation, especially that of the London club and gay scenes.” Half of his work is staged, with the artist choosing the clothes and the location, as well as setting his models up in their positions. The series of his friends Lutz and Alex, also published in i-D in 1992, are considered important photographic documents of the 1990s. From 1992 to 1994 Tillmans lived and worked in London, moving to New York in 1994. During this time, he began to show more frequently, developing an exhibition style that consisted of nonhierarchical arrangements of unframed photographs pinned or taped onto the gallery’s walls. Color photographs are placed next to inkjet prints and next to postcards and magazine clippings of his own images, reaching almost to the ceiling and the floor. He views each exhibition as a site-specific installation, often addressing the exhibition space as a larger composition.
Wolfgang Tillmans’ photographic practice has since developed to encompass a wide array of genres. His portraits, still lifes, sky photographs (i.e. the Concorde series), astrophotography, aerial shots and landscapes were all motivated equally by aesthetic and political interests and in formulations of reality and truth claims – particularly in relation to homosexuality and gender identity. Tillmans puts it like this: “I take pictures, in order to see the world.” Tillmans produces his photographs in different sizes and formats in meticulous wall-installations, combining them with photocopies, magazine and newspaper clippings (particularly in the installation known as “Soldiers – The Nineties”). The photographs are sometimes taped directly onto the wall, presented in vitrines, or arranged on extensive table-installations (“truth study center”). Operating on the basis of the fundamental equality of all motifs and supports, through this continual re-arranging, repositioning, questioning and reinforcement, Tillmans avoids ascribing any ‘conclusions’ to his work and thus repeatedly subjects his own photographic vision to a perpetual re-contextualization.