Review by Lucas Blalock
Reading Beatrix Ruf’s interview with Wolfgang Tillmans in his new book, I found the photographer’s optimism unsettling. I don’t share his valuation of the travel photograph as a particularly meaningful picture of worlds otherwise foreign to the artist’s experience. I think Ruf, in her questioning, is right to bring up Albert Ranger-Patzsch and his similarly titled The World Is Beautiful of 1928 which itself is an incredibly beautiful (and recently – widely influential) but politically spurious project.
I am however willing to take Tillman’s point that to ‘not look’ is not the right answer either. Without the text, and having seen some of these pictures previously in exhibition, I am impressed by his ever-expanding repertoire. His specific insistence on, seemingly, absolutely everything, more so than previously, left me thinking about the terms of the photograph’s circulation in a global landscape and how (or not) they mirror those of the commodity.
In the end I found myself wanting to think the work through a model for photography that Tillman’s does not quite posit, but one that he does seem to be rubbing up against. What if we were to consider the photographic act not as one of indexical, impersonal capture but instead as one of drawing—a method by which humans have for millennia tried to relate to, understand, and possess a capricious world via representation’s sympathetic magic. If we think of the photograph as a bad copy instead of a good one, an act of partial articulation instead of the final word, the medium opens onto new questions. And I think it is this very situation that is suggested by Tillmans’ visual appetites and more generally by the digital itself.
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Wolfgang Tillmans, Neue Welt, (Taschen, 2012)
Images: Cover and interior images from Neue Welt