Distinctly figurative, it is upon closer study that the viewer realises that Abney Park has certain abstract qualities to it. Based on a photograph taken previously, the source image was then photocopied by the artist and enlarged, creating a visible granulated pattern on the surface of the image that confers the work with a newspaper quality. The artist’s idiosyncratic manipulation of his own images can be traced back to his very first show in Hamburg in 1988, where he used a laser photocopier to enlarge and distort images of builders, beaches and waterfalls. Mark Godfrey explains how “by using the photocopier, Tillmans relinquished some of his authorship to the machine, later recognising that this was an analogy of his own life at the time, feeling in and out of control of his own fate” (Mark Godfrey cited in: Ibid, p. 40). The artist has continued to push the boundaries of what photography can be and mean, exploring the beauty in photographic development errors to create ethereal compositions such as his Blushes and Freischwimmer, capturing the harmonious compositions discarded items of clothing are able to create in his Faltenwurf series, and documenting his own life and that of his family and friends through a series of poignant portraits that have captured and continue to capture the spirit of a generation.
In Abney Park, Tillmans elevates the supposedly impoverished visual quality of the black-and-white photograph, thereby questioning the importance of photography, shunning refinement and precision in favour of a distorted medium – one that astutely challenges the collective and contributes to Tillmans’ dynamic and revolutionary repertoire.
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