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Shaping the accidental

09 Sep 2015 Anna Kerkhoff

Toeval en controle in de cameraloze fotografie van Wolfgang Tillmans. 

Shaping the accidental: chance and control in the cameraless photography of Wolfgang Tillmans.

This master’s thesis explores the coming about of the cameraless photography of Wolfgang Tillmans out of his conventional photography and how chance and control play a role in their realization. There have been numerous examples of artists that have experimented with different cameraless techniques to explore the possibilities of photography. Lászlo Moholy-Nagy was a pioneer in using and developing the technique of the photogram at the beginning of the twentieth century, Pierre Cordier invented the chemigram in the 1950's and James Welling is an example of a postmodern artist who uses these and other techniques in his own way. Tillmans’ cameraless works can be divided into different groups that consist of resembling photographs. These works seem to be an unexpected addition to the artists’ oeuvre, as he started by making figurative photographs with a camera. The opposite is true: Tillmans’ cameraless photographs originate from his figurative works, in which he allows chance to influence the picture. Tillmans has always been interested in little errors that occurred during the process of making or developing a photograph and he has accepted and shown these ‘mistakes’ in his work. In his cameraless work, he purposely takes a coincidence and starts using it in a controlled way. By incorporating these banal occurrences, he allows a form of abstraction in his photographs, because the picture gets interrupted by streaks of colour or other abstracting forms. Abstraction has always played a role in his work, also in his figurative photographs. By turning the camera to the ground or to the sky, Tillmans examines his world and the medium photography through the camera. His cameraless works are another way of broadening his photographic vision. However, these works cannot be called abstract, because they do not originate from a figurative image. They are a non-mediated reception of reality and they only refer to themselves: they are concrete photographs. Tillmans combines these works with his figurative photographs in his exhibitions, better described as installations. He hangs up his photographs in a non-hierarchical way by varying in size, material, source (newspapers, magazines or his own prints) and manner of attaching the photograph to the wall. His installations become almost a metaphor for his photographs, because Tillmans takes – as a true postmodern artist – everything he comes across in the world and uses it in his art. In his concrete works, he purposely tries to influence the interpretation of the viewer, by connoting these non-referential photos. He does by titling his concrete works in a highly suggestive way. On the other hand, he leaves a part of the interpretation open for the viewer by placing his photographs in a non-narrative way. By mixing concrete, abstract and figurative photos, the connotation lies in the reception of the viewer.

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