In the earliest period of his career, Tillmans experimented with enlarging and distorting his own photographs with a photocopier, delighted by the possibilities and level of chance involved. Subsequent cameraless works would be made by folding photographic paper in various ways (both before and after processing), running paper through a dirty processing machine, or applying chemicals to the paper. In the series Mental Images, Tillmans created vibrant images by placing colored string lights on the light sensitive photographic paper; here, the twisted wire and vividly glowing bulbs are clearly visible in several areas.
Tillmans’ experimentations with various combinations of chemicals, light, and objects to create images without a camera associate him with not only giants of 19th and 20th century photographic history such as Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy but also fellow contemporary photographers such as Adam Fuss (see Lot 6) and Susan Derges (see Lot 7). For Tillmans, the content of the image – the visual information – as well as the actual physical presence of the object itself are of equal importance. In this sense, the expressions of light on paper (luminograms) or the silhouette of articles placed over paper (photograms) become not just photographs but sculptural objects as well.
Although the human brain naturally struggles to find reason and narrative within an abstract image, Tillmans’ intention is simply that color and shape be used as a mode of expression, devoid of agenda. In exhibition, Tillmans rejects hierarchy or attempts to rate one form or period of his works over the other. In this sense, the title of his 2003 Tate Britain retrospective 'If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters' seems particularly apt.
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