NFTU #2 – Tillmans at the Tate

To go along with his exhibition at Tate Modern, Wolfgang Tillmans was signing copies of the catalogue in the bookshop there this week. I’d already bought the book when I visited it soon after the opening, but I nipped out of work on the day of the signing and took my copy back to Tate. By the time I’d reached the front of the queue, I’d had enough time to think of something adequate to say about the exhibition so, as I stood in front of Tilmans (who is a tall man, even sitting down, I was able to say: “I enjoyed the exhibition; it made me think, and it made me think about my own photographs as well” which seemed a nice summary of where my head is at the moment and went down well with Tillman, himself.

I visited the exhibition at Tate Modern a couple of weeks ago, when it had just opened and was very impressed by the way that each of the rooms of the exhibition – described as installations – provided a shared context for the pictures displayed there; some of the pictures could have been displayed in different rooms from the one they were in, but then they would have gained some meanings and lost others. It was an interesting way to experience the show, heightened by the different sized pictures which forced you to step in and peer at one, and then to retreat across the room in order to be able to comprehend what the next was about.

The result was very different from Elton John’s collection of Modernist prints that is also showing across the bridge in the Switch House. There – in classic modernist style – they are hermetic, sealed, content to be just themselves. They’re beautiful, but they’ve been done and they cannot innocently be redone either.

They are – well – just photographs. They are lovely and it is great to see them, but they don’t make you want to somehow incorporate them into your own work or rather your way of working. Tillmans makes you (and helps you) construct your meaning from his rooms full of juxtapositions; the modernist pictures just are.



  1. (2017) The Radical Eye – Modernist Photography from the Elton John Collection. London. Tate Moderm
  2. Tillmans, Wolfgang (2017) 2017. London; Tate Publishing

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