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Wolfgang Tillmans interviewed by Shirley Read (Part 1)

Tillmans, Wolfgang, 1968- (speaker, male; interviewee; artist; photographer)
2015-02-24, 2015-05-04, 2015-05-05, 2015-05-07, 2015-09-24

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  • Title:
    Wolfgang Tillmans interviewed by Shirley Read (Part 1)
  • Contributor: Tillmans, Wolfgang, (speaker, male; Read, Shirley (speaker, female; interviewer)
  • Rights: Wolfgang Tillmans
  • Language: English
  • Place Name: The British Library (Tracks 1-3 and 5-13) and Wolfgang Tillman’s London studio (Track 4)
  • Description:
    Track 1 [2:07:19] [Session 1: February 24 2015] Wolfgang Tillmans [WT] born August 16 1968 in Remscheid, North Rhine-Westphalia in the Rhineland, Germany. A description of the city, a centre for small tool making and his family’s business exporting tools to South America, the fragility of the business while WT was growing up due to a time of hyperinflation and revolution in South America, a town in a dense cultural landscape. [19:08] Description of WT’s early interests in pop music, photographs in print form, and his obsession with astronomy. Mention of his brother and sister. Further comments on astrology, his telescopes, being part of an amateur solar network and attending lectures at a local astronomers’ club from the age of 11. [41:35] Description of WT’s involvement with a liberal, left wing Lutheran group, going to camp in Sweden with them, his fairly abstract faith, love of the music especially from the Taize Community, a sort of personal liberation theology and very attractive to him. [47:23] Comments about puberty, failing in maths and physics, becoming a social being. [50:51] Description of WT’s family and of the family home and other houses in the street, that the whole street was built in the 1960s, each house designed by a different architect, mostly modernist, none were traditional. Comment that WT’s parents were Christian Democrats and the general sense of society was of modernity, progress and a future about justice and equality and that WT liked that and especially the new buildings and design which seemed part of it. [01:04:20] Description of, and comments on, the importance of the peace movement, the debate on siting Pershing missiles in Germany, a sense of a potential Armageddon, the Green Party and liberal Christian ideas. Comment that this happened at the same time as a rising interest in drugs amongst WT’s contemporaries, the influence of the book and film ‘Christiane F’ and that addiction seemed heroic and artistic rather than tragic, that the atmosphere was less controlled than today. Comments on the 1980s being contradictory times with polarised politics, judgemental attitudes, an ideological age. [01:16:07] A description of a fairly typical weekday routine for WT’s family, the children getting their own breakfast, bus to school, family lunch and lively discussion, parents’ after lunch rest, sport and homework, that his mother was a city councillor, WT was playing outside and reading a lot about astronomy. Description of meeting Stefanie at school and, through her, Lutz [Hülle], his interest in British pop music and its influence on WT; that they had a huge impact on WT and that this period 1982-3 marks a decisive change for him, both Stefanie and Lutz had been in Brighton doing a language course. [01:32:33] WT’s plan to go to Beckenham to visit ‘Aunt’ Valerie and ‘Uncle’ Rick; that Valerie had done a school exchange with WT’s mother in 1955 and they became lifelong friends. Comment that everything can be tracked back to that first inspiring visit at a point when London held great promise at a rich and unique moment of new wave, post punk, the new romantics, play with gender and that pop at that time seemed fresh and different and held a very strong appeal for WT, that it was experimental, a new spectrum of sounds. A description of going to see Culture Club playing in Tottenham Court Road in March 1983, dressing up and waiting outside the stage door. Description of returning to Remscheid hooked on the promise of London, its tastes and smells, that it seemed progressive and modern, comedy and humour, comments on some of the differences between German and British culture. [01:48:13] Remarks about seeing i-D magazine, attitudes to synthesised music as artificial, WT counting the days to his return to London, meeting Alex [Alexandra Bircken] who joined their England obsessed clique. Comments about WT cherishing printed matter from pop culture, liking clashing styles and cultural mix and questioning of gender and the design of i-D magazine. Description of attitudes and sense of self-worth of a generation of post war German teenagers, guilt complex, that WT’s parents were very young during the Second World War and part of the rebuilding generation and that it was only in the late 1960s that questions started to be asked, the myth of the Nazis, that there was ongoing discussion of events and of collective guilt.


    Track 2 [1:30:10] [Session 1: February 24 2015] Continuation of description of Germany in the post war period, that young people usually looked outwards for their cultural references, that pop music was mostly in English, the German New Wave movement, largely electronic. Comment about WT’s liking of English things such as the tube and a comparison with the German underground system, Heathrow and Munich airports and the different approaches to building and planning, mention of the contrast with Mumbai railway station. [11:34] Comment that WT always felt welcome in Britain and that the British have a great quality of making the foreign qualities they like their own and so described WT as a British artist but that people in every country think their country is the most narrow minded and that this is particularly true of attitudes to photography. [18:41] Further comments on the smells and tastes of Britain, carpeted bathrooms, cooked breakfasts, rhubarb fruit fool and apple crumble and custard, Silk Cut cigarettes. Description of WT’s return to Beckenham at Easter 1984 with Lutz and Steffie [?] who went to Brighton, that WT had started to make clothes and hats, would go to language school in the mornings and then to Kings Road or Kensington Market, wanting to go to clubs and mention of a conversation with Valerie about going to Heaven, that he went for 30 minutes and took the last train home, went to his first gay club with Lutz in Brighton. [26:46] Comment that this was just before the impact of HIV/AIDS and that it almost immediately changed the way he thought about love and sex, the equation between love and death. [29:20] Mention of Bronski Beat and their song ‘Small Town Boy’ in 1984. Comment that he saw the private and individual as having political meaning. [33:10] Comment that WT had changed from a scientifically oriented boy into a much more flamboyant and outward looking person. [34:00] Description of two hats and an overcoat WT made, playing with identity and reinvention, his family’s attitudes and a comment from Valerie about WT wearing lipstick. [41:16] Comments about coming out to his family [44:50] An account of travelling with Lutz to see Bronski Beat play, staying over, falling in love with a band member, seeing them perform again in Cologne, reflection on his interest in certain musicians and performers, his search for creative expression despite the fact that at school he wasn’t thought to be gifted in music or art, that he made clothes, drew, wrote lyrics and sang in a duo and was interested in everything except photography. [53:00] Description of WT’s father’s interest in photography, his camera, slide shows of his travels in South America. Mention that there had been an interest in photography on his father’s side of the family and that WTs great grandmother had won a Kodak award in the early 1900s with a picture of her daughters dancing naked on a beach, remarkable. [57:30] Description of three of WT’s father’s photographs which were hung in the family home, that they were experimental and expressionistic, that it was his father’s hobby and quite private. Remark about how this might have influenced WT growing up with a deep awareness of photography but no desire to take photographs. [01:06:57] Description of WT’s Easter 1985 visit to a penfriend, Patty Noakes, in Pennsylvania, his visits to New York and Philadelphia. [01:09:48] Description of wanting to create a fanzine and discovering a new copier, the Canon Laser Copier in his local copy shop, that it was new, digital and very advanced and could enlarge by 400% and the way that this inspired and motivated WT and was a watershed moment. [01:16:16] Comments that WT was lucky in not being seen as artistic, unlike his late boyfriend Jochen [Klein], and what this meant, that one teacher said to him that he was an artist, that he displayed what he was making on the walls of his room, made a garment out of newspapers and lacquer, that his parents didn’t take this seriously as a future career, nor did WT think of it as his career, that he was not sure what he would do. [01:21:55] An account of graduating from grammar school in 1987 and going on an inter-rail trip with his mother’s Voightlander camera with which he took photographs as source material for his photocopies, his sense of wonder at the transformative properties of the photocopier, that the images seemed to have expression which traditionally comes from the gesture and the parallel to electronic music. Comments about National Service in Germany and the reasons for this continuing after it had been abolished elsewhere, the right to conscientious objection.


    Track 3 [1:33:37] [Session 1: February 24 2015] Description of WT’s successful application to be exempt from military service and placement doing mobile social services as a carer for the Red Cross on the outskirts of Hamburg, the work, his development of back pain from lifting and transfer to a different role. Description of WT’s enjoyment of living on his own in a big city with a gay community, his discovery of Café Gnosa, which did exhibitions, buying a window mount cutter, learning to use it, framing his work, asking to be considered for an exhibition. WT’s first exhibition in February 1988 at Café Gnosa, self generated, a review in a local paper, sales, that he returned to Remscheid at weekends to the copy shop where he was allowed to use the very expensive photocopier. [10:22] A description of deciding to buy a small Voightlander and instead ending up with a Contax RTS SLR camera with good lenses which meant he had a professional camera for the first time. [15:58] A description of the development of music from house to acid house and a nightclub called Front in Hamburg, WT started following contemporary art, at the same time ecstasy culture emerged. WT’s reaction to this and his thoughts about its possibilities as art. [21:50] Description of his role in a new appointment on the switchboard at a different charity and of the charity’s work. [25:00] September 1988 WT’s second exhibition, at an independent photo gallery called Fabrik Fotoforum in Hamburg with photocopies and feedback stills from a video he had made. [26:50] Comment that at this point WT did not consider himself a photographer. Comments on his excitement at the acid house scene and a description of the effects of ecstasy and its impact on a generation.


    Track 3 [cont.] [34:45] Description of WT’s image making, that photographs of people at the clubs were published in i-D magazine, making a hat of moss and being photographed, then taking photographs of a new club in Hamburg called Opera House and giving a booklet of the images to i-D magazine and suggesting they should go to Hamburg, that his photographs of the club were published in Tango. [44:23] Comment that Tango asked him to continue to take photographs in clubs and that in 1989 i-D did a party in Hamburg and asked WT to photograph it. [45:55] Mention that WT’s social service was coming to an end, that his parents had been urging him to do an apprenticeship, that he applied for a place in a photography school in Berlin and started in September 1989, at which time he had been doing more club photography but also an exhibition of diptychs and triptychs which had been noticed by an advertising photographer who worked for Tempo magazine which then commissioned WT to do a major portrait work of 17 celebrities across Germany about the German question – the issue of whether Germany was one country or two, this was the time when the Soviet empire was crumbling and East Germans leaving. WT’s concerns about doing this work which was technically more difficult than either his own work or the images he shot in clubs, that he bracketed everything, that the experience was very interesting and WT was suddenly a professional photographer. [54:34] WT moved to Berlin and started a vocational course on photography at Lette-Verein, reflections on WT’s photographic learning at that time, that he became frustrated quite quickly and left the school after six weeks. [01:01:05] Comment that WT left Berlin on November 8 1989 and moved back to Hamburg and the next day the Berlin wall came down, that in Hamburg he got more work and had to fund himself and soon found magazine work but at the same time felt that he should be studying. Description of his family’s studying, his desire to move away from Remscheid, that unlike Cologne it wasn’t rebuilt beautifully. [01:08:52] Comments that WT was not really considered for the family business and his realisation that he wasn’t doing what he wanted to do, reading about Nick Knight and that Bournemouth and Poole College of Art & Design was considered the best photography school so setting off to visit it with his portfolio in January 1990 and talking to a tutor. Comment that he got a place on the HND course, description of the staff, students and college and WT’s desire to live a quiet life by the seaside while he was there after his quite wild time in Hamburg, that he liked Britain, his English was quite good, he liked his German ex-pat identity and the sense of the absurd in Britain. Comment that although the media was germanphobic WT never met any of it, that he had made a conscious decision to stop looking at or working for commercial magazines but that he had taken on covering the club scene for a Cologne based magazine so went to London to do that occasionally, his friendships with the other students and a description of it being run like a fine art college but with great technical support and a splendid colour darkroom so WT learned to print colour, understood what colour could do, had little interest in studio sessions or lighting, that he had a great tutor. A description of meeting Maureen Paley at an art fair in Hamburg before he left and then re-introducing himself to her at a V&A symposium, that she took him seriously, that the start of the Iraq war was the death knell of that art cycle.


    Track 4 [3:02:45] [Session 2: May 4 2015] Comments on WT’s attitude to photography while photographing dressing up with Lutz and Alex; reflections on postmodernism and the play with gender roles and identity which emerged in the 1980s, the rupture with modernism and the change from the politics of the ’68 generation, the fine reading of pop culture. [02:27] Comments on recognising photographs as fiction, on postmodernism, intuition and identity and cutting through bourgeois certainty in a way which didn’t resemble the ’68 generation, being highly political, always talking, contextualising and analysing, having pseudonyms. [10:50] Description of WT’s art activities, of not thinking about art school, his art education in school, feeling lucky that he escaped being seen as having artistic talent when he was young, the importance to him of being outside this which allowed him to find his own expressive tool of photography and of always questioning. [26:27] Description of the German scheme of apprenticeship and university, that WT didn’t follow this route and reflection on what not doing so gave him. Reflections on taking himself seriously and what makes him an artist, the fabric of the times and wanting to contribute. [48:47] On recognising what is good, having criteria, liking Maureen Paley’s [MP] style, warmth and curiosity and meeting her again at a conference about postmodernism at the V&A. [55:01] Comment that WT had introduced himself to Spex magazine in Cologne before going to Bournemouth to study and offered to work for them while in England and that MP knew who they were, that he showed her his colour diptychs in Bethnal Green in 1991; that he showed her his portraits in September 1992 and she wanted to take the portrait of Lutz and Alex to the ‘Unfair’ art show in Cologne, WT went with her to install. Comments on learning about Canon bubble jet printing, Terry Jones’ love for instant design, about the tiling function of the Canon and showing the results at Front in Hamburg. [01:05:33] A description of being in Berlin in Nov ‘92 on a Time Out commission to photograph their guide book with Penguin, a wonderful experience, the most ‘real’ assignment. Comment about going to an i-D party the night before the Cologne Art Fair opened and being introduced to Daniel Buchholz [DB] who invited him to show in his project gallery, that this was a pivotal moment, reason for being able to have a work relationship with DB. Description of how the gallery system of representing an artist usually works.


    Track 4 [cont.] [01:12.54] Comments that WT joined Andrea Rosen gallery in New York in October ‘93 and again was able to deal directly with the gallery, that he has always wanted to be in control of his career, that he was approached by three New York galleries, that he has the highest regard for his dealers who are all conscientious and remark that there are two different types of gallerist, their influence or role ‘in the mix’. [01:21:03] Reflection that you become a one man show the day you leave college and never again have that way of critiquing work; comments about the good international mix of students at Bournemouth, WT’s friendship with an older American student, that it was still at its core a British course. [01:26:27] Comments on the intrusive sound of a helicopter hovering overhead during the interview and that the symbolism and reading of such a situation is something that WT can be passionate about, always trying to describe ‘how does it feel?’ Reflections on this, on WT’s choice of the camera as his medium, the desire to take out artifice, what his eye sees, experimentation with forms, moving away from diptychs and triptychs, juxtaposition in the photograph, making portraits which were direct and not about playing to the camera, the brilliant teaching of Tony [Antonio] Maestri, his remark about WT’s drive to succeed, the college and that the students didn’t see themselves as artists. [01:54:52] WT’s awareness that he was fortunate in being given freedom and being nurtured, that he was very aware of the art world, the importance of cultural studies with Peter Massingham, that WT visited London and read widely, that the other students didn’t always understand or like WT’s work - an example of this, knowing this was a good sign. Comment that using straightforward colour photography was slightly unusual but there were the new British documentary photographers and Martin Parr and Peter Fraser both visited and were supportive. [02.11.18] Comment that WT was in a fortunate situation at Bournemouth, without expectation of genius, a comparison with Jochen Klein’s experience in Munich and the value of studying abroad and being in a culture where one is ‘other’, that he feels a child of Europe, that Britain is a language oriented culture and Germany and France more visual. [02:32:16] Reflections on what taking a photograph means, everything has photographic potential, choices, days and times which are conducive, being in the here and now, that the camera translates something he thinks his mind and eye have thought and seen, that the technical side is an on-going craft, on taking a photograph at the start of the session of a weed and how it links with another photograph of a weed, on wanting when taking a photograph, the economy of having so many heightened moments, thinking about the continuation of the Neue Welt work, detachment from subject matter, what is worthy, that half the photographer’s work is in the editing, that the criteria is to say something which hasn’t been said before.


    Track 5 [02:22:20] [Session 3: May 5 2016] Description of student life in Bournemouth, bed and breakfast accommodation with other students, getting a car which was stolen and trashed, being happy to stay in Bournemouth rather than spend weekends in London, wanting to be there and cut off from media awareness, making a conscious effort not to look at all the magazines such as Italian Vogue in order to take time off editorial work, the decision not to smoke before 6pm and wanting to get out of a sort of fickle interest in trendy photographic styles and fashions, WT’s wide interests and being out of contact with previous editorial contacts except for Spex. [13:00] Description of his financial situation, tuition was free, some parental support, making some money, the economy of doing test strips and how he learned from that, pacing himself, a comparison with students today who can store 1000 pictures but may not have time to edit them, the camaraderie and competition, the college had a Quantel paintbox, an early, simple version of Photoshop but that there was no sense that the future would be digital, that the college was in a new building. [28:02] Description of learning colour printing using the EP2 and RA4 processes rather than using the transparency which was the lead medium in the 1980s, the options and reasons for this decision, exposure times, a pivotal moment, the freedom of shooting, caring about the object, the complexities of printing, the huge mistakes which are possible, cyan, magenta and yellow and the reverse thinking and leap of imagination involved which it causes you to make which has stayed with WT since and is part of the abstract work, the detail of this, the danger of the neg ‘popping’, running his own colour darkroom till 2011, test strips, working in total darkness which involved touch, smell and sound, a very tactile experience of observing cause and effect which had a deep effect on him. [01:06:33] Comments about a conversation with an editor of Artforum about WT’s understanding of architecture coming from making three-dimensional installations, about spaces, his constant observation, collecting test strips and whole sheets which had gone wrong and a description about using them as a three page grid in Parkett [?] magazine in 1998 and in a limited edition, using Agfa Ultra, the difficulties in that. Description of his fascination with Kodak Ektar 125 film then changing to Fuji Reala 100 when the Ektar was discontinued, using one b&w film, Ilford XP2 then changing to Kodak TCN400. Comment on Peter Massingham’s weekly classes, how happy WT felt at this time and with his peers, WT’s love life, that he felt accepted and didn’t want to go outside his Bournemouth life. [02:05:40] Comment that things changed in his last half year because he went to see Bournemouth alumni and successful fashion photographer Nick Knight [NK], introduced him to Travis [surname], picture editor at iD. NK’s comment about energy which helped WT see he should work with i-D and club culture, understanding that he needed to treat every thing as being the same. The strong sense of it being a new and different decade in 1990, change. The importance of Travis and Terry Jones, founder and creative director of i-D, going to Ghent and Frankfurt for them and producing a semi-abstract grid spread about the techno scene in December 1991, Terry took him to Venice which was the cue to develop a ‘straight up’ portrait style of people on the street, the foundation for a book and exhibition, that working for i-D gave WT licence to photograph, that WT’s brother worked for Lufthansa which gave him a unique freedom of movement.


    Track 6 [02:41:59] [Session 3: May 5 2016] Comment that WT was asked for more fashion oriented portraits, link with Matthew Collin, excited at being at i-D. The Diptychs show in Hamburg in May ’92 with Mr F.C. Gundlach and then an advertisement on a snowboarding brand. Comment that Lutz and Alex had found a flat in Crawford Street, W1 so was able to move there after college and to buy darkroom equipment to set up in the flat with the ad money, gave WT freedom to carry on working. Description of WT’s first ‘fashion’ story for i-D with Lutz and Alex as models, styling it himself, choosing camouflage and fetish clothes, photographing on Studland beach, including ‘Lutz & Alex holding cock’, their shared attitude to what they were doing, a description of the photograph ‘AA breakfast’ as an example and that the work with Lutz and Alex was ‘Like Brother Like Sister’, the inclusion of pictures from the previous year; that WT laid it out himself, it had an impact but was banned by WH Smith. Learning layout. [32:24] On being invited to contribute a video to the Unfair art fair in Cologne, carrying a torch for sexual liberation, turning down commissions, choosing things without much money, happy with where he was. [39.40] A description of the Daniel Buchholz show in Jan 1993, meeting Isa Genzken [IG] who bought a work, the installation using different methods, his passion for the art object in space, wanting to do it in the least artificial way, a photocopy of a sentence from a pastor, different media ‘parallelity’. [52:39] Further reflection on WT’s installation practice, his approach to the idea of the unique art object, a comment about the Bechers and art students, photography’s inferiority complex, how to make representation of all the different things which are different genres, unsorted but not random or directionless, he doesn’t have one modus operandi, the importance of colour as a tool, comments on WT’s approach to installing an exhibition, wanting not to impose a narrative or a correct way to read the work, the importance of, and reasons for, showing work unframed and the different reasons for using tape and pins, the Family of Man exhibition as a precedent but it not being like a magazine spread. A remark by IG, photographing her, Carnival, a return for the de-installation, being recognised by artists like Sigmar Polke, Carsten Höller and Lothar Hempel [?], moving between London and Cologne. An invitation by Purple Prose to show in Paris in June ’93. A description of a fashion story for i-D using Lutz and Susanne [?] in army camouflage clothes, that iD was changing and using supermodels, returning to Bournemouth to make 24” prints, reflection on why WT never became a fashion photographer, the choice by Purple Prose of one of these pictures for the exhibition invite, being invited back and an exhibition called The Winter of Love in February ’94 and showing music – the extraordinary thing at 25 was to have a solo show and a museum show opening within two weeks. Maureen Paley [MP] planned WT’s first solo show in London for October ’93 and in September Andrea Rosen [AR] phoned from New York to say she would be coming. Comments about WT’s relationship with the YBA artists, friendly Sunday lunch at MP, a comparison between them and London and Europe. Comment that WT continued to get hostile reactions into the early 2000s.


    Track 6 [cont.] [1:37:48] Comments that Gregorio [Magnani], DB’s boyfriend, spoke to WT about making a photocopied book, Angelika Taschen bought prints from a small show, The Photographers Gallery wasn’t interested, on reasons for not selling to Charles Saatchi, turning things down, testing ideas and offers. [01:46:47] Spending time in Summer ’93 in Zurich preparing an exhibition for arsFutura Galerie, working on a layout for a book proposal for Taschen, encouragement from DB but not from Alex and Lutz or Walter Keller of Scalo, Taschen agreed to do the book and wanted to call it Wolfgang Tillmans which was unexpected and cool, comments on the insecurity of the photographic world in the face of the perceived hostility of the art world and the line between the two, that Thomas Weski and Aperture didn’t accept WT’s work then, he let go of the photographic world. AR came to London, saw the MP show, invited WT to be part of a 3 person group show in April ’94, WT went to New York in November ’93 with AR and two other galleries interested in his work, his thoughts on his options and his reasons for joining AR, that from this show came an invitation to show at the Kunsthalle Zürich in March ’95 and in spring ’94 WT also received an invitation to show at Portikus in Frankfurt from Kasper König [02:01:32] Comments that WT had moved with Lutz, Alex and Lars [surname] to Gloucester Place where he again set up a darkroom, had started making money and had got an accountant and found it slightly difficult to talk about his situation with his friends who were still studying and suddenly decided to move to New York. [02:09:42] Description of WT’s move to New York in September ’94 with a suitcase, stored his belongings at his parents, rented half a loft, when the exhibition opened there was incredible excitement about it, he had built his first architectural model, he was using each exhibition to develop new types of installation, he had a free hand, the gallery was deeply encouraging, WT wasn’t a big financial burden, that he was asked to dinner with Laurie Anderson. [02:24:59] Comments about the book, took half a year, WT had made a dummy, the text by Simon Watney, WT started a new life in New York, went to see Interview magazine and took portraits of people such as Philip Glass or Grand Master Flash, felt he didn’t understand America, was fascinated by New York, felt involved with meeting people around Artclub 2000 but became very aware of the differences between Americans and Europeans. WT’s friendship with Paul Dezardain, photographed him. In January the Taschen book was launched and there was a huge response. A description of meeting Jochen Klein at The Bar, who became WT’s partner for the next 2 ½ years.


    Track 7 [2:10:08] [Session 4: May 7 2016] Comments that in ’95 WT was invited to be in a show of young British artists, called Brilliant at the Walker Arts Centre in Minneapolis curated by Richard Flood, WT was in New York, felt part of Cologne, had Paris connections and saw himself as pan international, moving between four different places. Comments that he saw himself as a Londoner from Germany, remains his first identity even today, about not being a YBA, that it could have been restrictive, London could be insular then. Comment that he was glad to have the American perspective, details about Jochen Klein’s approach and background, how enlightening it was to talk to him, he was very well read in art and theory, their exchanges about art and music, different tastes and shared pleasures. Comment that America and New York were multifaceted, an anecdote about making a portrait of Michael Burgin who modelled underwear for Calvin Klein – a reflection about doing away with certainties of portraiture and recording clashes so leaving jarring things in the frame, about people who can bear their own lives, all the different types of portrait he takes but puts together in books and exhibitions. Comment that as he ages he has become more generous towards people who don’t understand his portraits, that in the ‘90s he was working in very contested territory but that things that he respected then like Blue Monday by New Order and Being Boring by the Pet Shop Boys are now recognised whereas they weren’t then. Description of his desire to undermine the language of importance of window mounts and rarefied space around the frame, that people saw him as a commercial photographer who was crossing over into the art world, a misreading which lasted into the 2000s, his realisation that a lot of great art has been made by people in their 20s, that he was filled with a sense of a new generation and new perspective, that some critics accused him of being trendy or superficial but didn’t understand his situation, music or subculture and thought that he was promoting consumerism. Comments about the show at Chisenhale in ’97 and huge critical opposition from, for instance, Adrian Searle.


    Track 7 [cont.] [01:19:56] Comment that he can no longer accept an outsider position and has to recognise that he has arrived, in the ‘90s he had the drive and energy to get his position across against the opposition but understood that artists such as Schwitters were often not appreciated, that he was playing with different modes of representation. Description of being invited to be one of the 5 artists in the annual MOMA exhibition called New Photography in October’96 where he made a site specific installation but had to show every photograph to Peter Galassi, male and female nudes. [01:33:00] Description of being invited to photograph a fashion story by Anna Wintour at Vogue, how he did that with Kate Moss at his place in London, the pleasure of working with Jochen to get the props, a description of Kate Moss, the hilariousness and seriousness of the session, the two photographs of her in the Chisenhale show, also used in the Taschen book, the press still choose those pictures, juxtaposition with a picture of a man met in a Lutheran church, his awareness that depicting people is not neutral, that everything was his thinking of meaning and visual codes and how they are received. A return to the story about photographing the Calvin Klein model with a description of events and the photograph to illustrate this sort of questioning. Comment that an intense development happened within 12 months – moved to New York, met Jochen, had a big exhibition at Portikus, decided to publish the catalogue in two forms – as an insert in Spex and an extra 1500 were printed and bound between 32 pages of interview by Neville Wakefield in a minimal beautiful red cover book, a mix of pictures like varying degrees of intimacy and artifice and staging and non staging. Comment that in spring ’95 WT had his first museum show in the Kunsthalle Zürich and made a b&w artist’s book of photographs, newspaper tear-outs, humorous bits, wild scribbles and crass political stuff which absolutely set the tone for an aspect of his practice which is still going on 20 years later, an explanation that he didn’t want it to be special, refined and to make the work look like collectables. Comment that the Taschen book was 15,000 copies on the first print run and the London launch at the Atlantic was mobbed, the same week as Take Me I’m Yours at the Serpentine which WT used both to give away the newspaper and to sell the Taschen book which was very cheap.

  • Notes:
    Recording date: 2015-02-24, 2015-05-04, 2015-05-05, 2015-05-07, 2015-09-24
    Collection title: Oral History of British Photography ^A230643
    Recording Notes: audio files 13 WAV 24 bit 48 kHz stereo
    Access restrictions: No online access until 2035

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