“Photography evades us. The various distributions we impose upon it are in fact either empirical or rhetorical, or else aesthetic, in any case external to the object, without relation to its essence, which can only be the New of which it has been the advent; for these classifications might very well be applied to other, older forms of representation. We might say that photography is unclassifiable.” Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida.
Photography is a notably diverse medium, which means that, when photography serves as the medium for art, it is all too easily misunderstood. What gets in the way is the inescapable extent to which photographs are plastered in your face every day, through adverts, magazines, news, Instagram, blogs.
Since a camera is always at hand in the world of smart phones and dumb people, what distinguishes your selfie from a ‘masterpiece’?
Grasping for more than just “aesthetic”, Wolfgang Tillmans reaches further than your everyday Instgram filter to uncover the human nature of 2017. There is an ever present purpose behind the shutter that draws you in, and through his newest installation at London’s Tate Modern, Tillmans captures our existence in a bold new light.
The exhibit is separated into 14 different rooms, each curated as its own installation and representing a different angle on the theme ‘2017’.
“The first thing I found was this. What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.” Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida.
Capturing fleeting moments, photography as a medium has a shifting nature. Though the process of a shutter capturing a frame seems to stay, accessible formats are growing with the vast number of available photos.
Exploring the diversity of photography, Tillmans establishes various forms and contrasting formats, before moving swiftly onto self-exploration. He turns a self-deprecating lens onto various ways of being himself.
Walking through the different rooms, the most striking aspect is Tillmans’ ability to evoke an overwhelming feeling of humanity. Depicting the various aspects of our nature in excruciating detail, he challenges the viewers to put themselves in a grander context. Through his meticulous eye for detail, he offers a rare and unfiltered view of the modern human and our mere state of being.
Through table top displays, Tillmans also explores ‘truth’ as a concept. He delves into the human psyche to an almost cellular level, picking apart our beliefs through conflicting information and headlines.
Though his exhibit is titled ‘2017’, it looks towards the timeless, eternal. Referencing abstract expressionism and non-figurative pictures, Tillmans constantly engages the audience with changing tone and narrative. And maybe this changeable quality is the true reflection of the now?
But I can’t help wondering whether this 48 year old white male is really the one to illustrate the state of “us”.
The Millennial voice has never been stronger and we have young creatives such as Rookie founder Tavi Gvenison, Recens mogul, Elise By Olsen, and photographers such as Petra Collins, Pasenau and Sandy Kim.
So, why is Tillmans work still so immense? Why does his photo installation hit home so hard?
Personally I was very offended when Instagram removed my photo of the installation because it contained a photo of a scrotum. But, beyond such concerns, Tillmans has pioneered the duality of artistic expression and honesty like no one else. His usage of diverse media and his narrative skill, come together to tell something previously untold. And perhaps more importantly, his work still says “I don’t know everything, so you need to figure this out”.
The challenge is there for the audience, and that’s why ‘2017’ is what it (says it) is.
Eternalizing normal as beautiful, Tillmans breaks out of all that white noise, and maps out 2017 in a new light, mind and body. It’s private and public, and at times it’s uncomfortably honest. ‘2017’ reflects the ways of our lives in a creatively far-fetched way, the like of which you have never seen before.