TBT to Index’s Wolfgang Tillmans Interview

We’ve spent a lot of time perusing old copies of Index Magazine of late. The atmosphere contained within the pages is always buzzy and a lot of that has to do with the photography. Tillman’s was responsible for a rather large proportion of Index’s covers and covers set the tone. They always managed to find the perfect settings to shoot the perfect people. And the interviews were glorious, with interviewees that often had their own thing going on.

This Wolfgang Tilman’s interview that they conducted is a perfect example. With Peter Halley and Bob Nickas on interview duty. We’ve included an excerpt below but check out the full interview here.


BN: I’m thinking of the word “democratic,” because when I started looking at more of your photographs, I couldn’t always tell the difference between what were personal pictures, and what was commercial work. And I realized there’s a kind of blurring between them in your work. In other words, with some photographers, their commercial work looks like it’s what they were hired to do. And the other work is personal. But in yours they kind of flow into each other much more.
WT: I just make my work, and there’s only one kind of work that I do. But then, I put it out into the world, and it instantly starts to travel. People start to claim it for whatever field they think it sits in. So I actually don’t control the framework in which my work circulates.
My staged work looks so real that people actually take it for documentary. But, in fact, that is my intention, to disguise the manufacturedness of it. Half of my work, or probably more than that, is staged.

PH: This is contradictory to what you were saying at first, that you went into shoots without pre-expectations.
WT: That’s the thing, I go into an index cover shoot without expectations because there is nothing I can expect because I don’t know who I’m meeting. But there are a lot of themes and images that I have in my head, that I stage with people, with models. And then, in order to distribute them into the world, you use fashion channels. So I use the fashion magazine kind of as my platform to publish my storyboards. I inject my personal visions into the world, by making them look real, or looking like a club shot or like a fashion shot.
But actually, what I do is I enact situations with my models or friends so I can see what they look like. There’s the photo of those people sitting in the trees. Or those people lying on the beach. The woman with her hands wrapped around her head. All those were planned images.

PH: But by “staged” you just mean you move people around a bit?
WT: No, I tell them what to do, and I choose the clothes, I choose the location, and I set them up in their positions.

BN: It sounds a bit like a little scene from a movie …
WT: Yeah, but it’s a kind of post-art photography. It’s no longer about — “Look how much an artist I am, how controlled it is.” It’s confident enough to use photography to its fullest extent without constantly pointing at how I’m controlling the whole process.

PH: Do you identify strongly with the cinema verité tradition, or the street photography tradition?
BN: There was the famous TV series, An American Family, where the everyday life of a California family was filmed in their own house for a whole year.
WT: No, I’m actually not very interested in finding, in collecting these moments. I’m looking for the one definitive picture of a person or a situation.