Wolfgang Tillmans

born 1968 in Remscheid, Germany; lives in Berlin and London


1990–1992 Degree from Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design, Bournemouth

1995 Art prize ars viva

2000 Turner Prizewinner (as first photographer)

2003–2009 Professor at the Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main

2009 Prizewinner of the Deutschen Gesellschaft für Photographie

2014 Wollaston Award, Royal Academy of Arts, London

2015 Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography, Gothenburg, Sweden

2017 B.Z.-Art prize, Berlin

2018 Kaiserring – Art prize of the city Goslar

Visual Arts

Visual Arts

Wolfgang Tillmans began in the late 1980s, at that time living in Hamburg, to produce portraits of his friends and acquaintances in the local music and youth scene. His empathetic and carefully composed snapshots, which gradually moved beyond the German and British rave and gay-culture milieu in which his work started, quickly began appearing in music and lifestyle magazines like i-D and Spex (Tillmans functioned temporarily as a coeditor of the later). His sensitive, subtle portrait series, such as the one on his two friends Lutz & Alex, which didn’t focus on sensationalistic moments of excess in the rave and club scene, won him a reputation as »chronicler of his generation.«


Likewise, Tillmans’ photographic approach is far from escapist and or lost in stylistic reverie and is instead characterized by the aspiration to capture reality and moments of experiential truth. Consequently his repertoire has experienced a continual expansion. This began in the late 1990s to expand, including – along with landscape photography, still-life or celestial bodies – abstractions produced in the darkroom without the use of a camera, as well as sculptural works with rolls of paper, such as folded photo paper. Also the incorporation of analog photocopy techniques (as recourse to earlier experiments from the 1980s) characterized his tireless activity exhibiting over the last two decades. These were characterized by his diligently arranged wall tableaus as well as works on tables in which he combined diverse photos and formats (Truth Study Center, which was published as a book in 2005 and since then frequently appears as part of exhibitions). Since 2009 Tillmans has made use of digital technologies, which in his view is closely connected to a new image regime that eludes all forms of fixation.

Author: Christian Höller



Already in 1986, at the age of 18, Wolfgang Tillmans pursued a music project with multi-instrumentalist Bert Leßmann (who died in 2013). They met in Remscheid and Wuppertal to make recordings. 30 years later Tillmans went public with these recordings, bleak indie rock on synthesizer, during the course of a revival of his musical works. With two new songs – Tillmans performing throughout as singer – commenced a series of releases and performances, which the photographer has been doing occasionally ever since. In 2016 this led to the band, and label of the same name, Fragile. In a comprehensive lineup, the EP That’s Desire / Here We Are was recorded, for which a »visual album« was produced consisting of six individual videos. Interspersed in the dance-oriented tracks is once again a song from the year 1986, Fast Lane, connecting to Tillmans’ musical beginnings. In 2017 Tillmans recorded a strong, vocally-based album with the title Hamburg Süd / Nee I Yaow eow eow, which was at the same time a »soundtrack« for his exhibition in Kunstverein Hamburg. The EP Heute will ich frei sein followed in 2018, for which once again a »visual album« consisting of five individual videos was produced.

In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

Wolfgang Tillmans

South Tanks, Tate Modern, London, 3. 3. 2017, with Wolfgang Tillmans (voc.) and Kyle Combs, Juan Pablo Echeverri, Tim Knapp, Jay Pluck und Tom Roach, 4:45 min

Tate © Tate Digital 2018

On March 3, 2017 Tillmans performed with his band Fragile in celebration of his retrospective at the London Tate Modern. As prelude to a week of concerts organized by the artist, Fragile gave, as part of their contribution, two samples of their versatile repertoire.

To begin with, a cover of the leftist Sacropop classic Anderes Osterlied, recorded in 1970 by the Peter-Janssens-Ensemble. To a lean, catchy guitar riff Tillmans pronounced in semi-inflammatory, inflected verse, in which liberation theology and calls for revolution are closely related: »that would sit well with masters of the world / if justice were to come only in the afterlife…« In contrast was the drone-like song Naïve Me, which, written in 2016, focuses on Brexit, which nearly nobody thought was possible. Tillmans inflected speech turns in on itself and begins, if only shortly, to turn in a circle – »naïve me – me naïve.« Meanwhile the five-person band spouts ominous plumes of sound, till the struggle against helplessness flows into the conclusive ending: »How did we get into this shit?«


Christian Höller