My first thoughts on Tillman's photography was how varied it was. He seemed to operate in many different genres (still life, portrait, landscape, and abstract.) To try and understand the work I got a book from the library that was part catalogue (for his retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago) and also contained a number of interesting and useful essays that attempted to critique and define the images and body of work as a whole.
Wolfgang Tillmans - ISBN 0-300-12022-2
I made a number of notes and my conclusions are listed below:
It is clear that Tillmans likes to use various sizes of prints that are venue specific when creating an exhibition. Not only that but he uses different media too - sometimes oversized inkjet prints alongside re-photographed copies of newspaper clipped or taped to the gallery walls and framed prints. Tillmans retains control not only of his work but also the way it is exhibited and he likes to mix it up changing the layout according to the size of the venue but also his current thinking and interests at any given time. From what I understand this is a conceptual view of art and reminds me somewhat of a recent Tracey Emin exhibition, "She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea" at the Turner Contemporary, Margate. What I mean by this is that both artists like to move between different mediums to explore their themes (Emin, painting, installation art, tapestry, embroidery and Tillmans, photography, photocopy, re-photographing and experimenting with the film process without a camera.)
His portraits are of the social narrative type where the background (usually a living environment or a place frequented by the subject) is casual and non formal in presentation. These are definitely not studio type portraits with fancy lighting and theatrical or dramatic poses. Tillmans use of lighting is interesting. The images appear flat and without shadow but that does not make them dull in this respect. Tillmans apparently uses a simple lighting technique with a single off camera flash, bouncing the light off white walls or card. I would like to experiment with this technique myself and have made a note to do this at some point.
I like the work for its uniqueness. Tillmans output is so varied I find some of the images harder to get into than others. The abstracts for example, made using solely darkroom techniques and chemicals, are supposed to be seen on a larger scale and would have more effect on a gallery wall. This is always the case with some artists work. I remember the powerful draw of Thomas Struth's jungle images at the Whitechapel Gallery. To me they hardly got a second glance when I first saw them reproduced in a book.
I have two more books about Tillmans requested on interlibrary loan. I will update this post when I have read them.