Review: Lighter by Wolfgang Tillmans


Book Reviews, Photobooks

Popular folklore has it that German photographers have had a dominating influence on the aesthetics of contemporary photography. In this context, “German photographers” means people from Düsseldorf, with their “cool”, “detached” style and their “typologies”. Needless to say, this image is a mere caricature, and a pretty shoddily drawn one at that. In reality, German photography has become a very important part of contemporary photography, but while the Düsseldorf Art Academie has spawned quite a few well-known practitioners, there are many others whose work doesn’t conform at all to the “cool” and “unpersonal” style that is supposed to be what makes the “German” in “German photography”. To wit: Wolfgang Tillmans.

At age 40, Wolfgang Tillmans can already look back to an impressing career, and Lighter provides impressive testimony of this career. Lighter mostly contains a very large number of installation shots, taken at all the different venues where Wolfgang Tillmans was able to show his work, which ranges from his earlier snapshots to his later abstract work (this reviewer finds the former extremely forgettable - in contrast to the latter, which in a very convincing way expands contemporary photography into abstract art). In addition, some of the abstract work is shown directly, reproduced on the pages.

Even though it might seem as if showing almost four hundred pages of installation shots was a bit gratuitous, the large number of photos gives a very nice overview of Tillmans’ work. And as an added bonus, the book also provides a nice presentation of how contemporary photography (and art in general) are shown - in large, mostly empty rooms, with white walls.

By showing the wide variety of Wolfgang Tillmans’ work, Lighter can be considered as a mirror image of contemporary photography: Whatever you think it is, it indeed is, but there is always more. It’s extremely fascinating to see a single artist explore so many different venues, and hopefully Lighter will contribute to flushing the simplistic ideas of what German photography is out of the system.