On the occasion of his fourth solo exhibition, Tillmans continues to expand the poetic possibilities of the photographic medium. An intimate and wide-ranging reflection on image creation, through the simultaneity of life, matter and the concept of space-time. Fold Me presents a totally new body of work. The title of the exhibition is named after a visual trope, the fold, which has recurred in the artist’s research since the 1990s, when he made his first Faltenwurf (Drapery) images. A fold is the meeting of the inside with the outside, a change of direction that leaves a physical impression. Through Paper drop and Lighter works, the fold is formalized by Tillmans as a concept that articulates the materiality of photography. In his view, the fold collapses linear delimitations and separation boundaries, for example between the image and its carrier, and offers the potential to reimagine the structure of space.
In a fast-paced world where technology accelerates the production of ever-changing visual content to something new and unknown, Tillmans’ extended vision is extraordinary and peculiar; his images stand out by calmly relying on photographic documentation of the act of observing reality, without filters or overstructures. Continuing to shape the contemporary art scene, the artist has redefined the photographic medium through a seamless integration of genres, subjects and exhibition strategies.
Provo, Utah and the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains (2023) and Lunar Landscape (2022) share the same subject, the folds of the Earth’s surface, in different forms. Both shots arouse wonder, curiosity, calm and at the same time great energy; they are as textural as they are evanescent. The first image is a shot from above the sky, and depicts the contrast between a flat cityscape and a high mountain range meeting. In Lunar Landscape the effect of the full moon reflecting off the countless curves of the Atlantic surface gives rise to almost diametrically opposed interpretations of landscapes, here presented as fragments of a larger whole that eludes containment.
“My work is informed and sustained by acknowledging and enduring the extremely low probability of making a good picture. That does not mean that everything is coincidence, or that my work is the result of amassing and selecting images. It is an experimental arrangement of sensitivities that I have built over a long time, with different modes of observation and a continuous fine-tuning that lead to the images that make up my work.”
Another theme that punctuates the exhibition is the analysis of water in its different states. Still life shots alternate with terrestrial landscapes shot from above. Movement, real or apparent, is a constant in the images, permeated by social awareness and the questioning of existing values and hierarchies. Watering, a (2022), still life carefully shot by the photographer in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, depicts bottle caps that seem to glide in mid-air, resting on the top segment of clear plastic bottles next to a sachet of water, the most common form of drinking water in West Africa. In Power Station (Low Clouds) (2023) a plume of water vapor from a power station silently traverses a layer of low clouds, casting a shadow. The lightness and elegance of the soft vapor evokes the concrete disorder of our hunger for energy.
The various still life in this new body of works reveal a sense of intentionality and intimacy: in Lagos still life II (2022), a slightly bruised mango and plantains lie on an unmade bed, along with local plastic bags, grasses, and an ornament; while in Inner City Poppy Pods (2022) the subjects are plants and grown flowers, the result of Tillmans’ personal experiments. Rain Splashed Painted Life (2022), a large-scale still life, is an optical play that initially seems to suggest a romantic landscape of a sunset horizon, but then turns out to be a close-up view of a mud-spattered wall. The wall itself, if you focus carefully, at the top of the frame reveals a white-painted border, creating a blurred effect of the image frame. New York from New Jersey (2022) is an expression of the artist’s fascination with New York City, the surrounding landscape, and the infrastructure that supports the constant ebb and flow of the city. In Tillmans’ image we see the city as a thin line of spikes, a distant body connected to traffic arteries in a vast landscape dedicated to the transportation and distribution of goods. The show also includes a video projection, Seeing the Scintillation of Sirius Through a Defocused Telescope (2023), which features Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Wondering if it would be possible to record the scintillation of a star in real time, the artist was able to slightly defocusing his telescope to make the star appear as a small blurry disk on his camera’s sensor.
In his new series of works Tillmans also pursues the path of portrait investigation, and it is the portraits that make the exhibition complete and varied. They include two Iranian artists, a queer activist from Lagos, a Crimean refugee working in Toronto, and a film producer from New York. The photographer’s portraits are sometimes spontaneous, casual, the result of on-the-spot encounters, while at other times long-planned. Again, time is a central theme, every shot speaking of different historical moments and the relationship each of the subjects has with their present. Lastly, going back to the fold and materiality, some new works are presented in Lighters, a body of work begun by Tillmans in 2005. These are photographic paper sculptures, folded in the darkroom before display or sometimes after processing, characterized by a three-dimensional physicality that carries with it an image of its own genesis. The colors and shapes are the result of Tillmans drawing with light sources on light-sensitive papers folded in different ways.
Once again, one of the most influential photographers of our time has told his and our reality through an unmistakable artistic point of view, characterized by delicate energy, great emotional depth and strong sensory suggestions.
Fold Me is on view until October 14th, 2023 at David Zwirner in New York, 525 and 533 West 19th Street.