The Freischwimmer series, the title of which refers to the German levels of swimming proficiency, was executed without a camera or negative; Tillmans simply created the photos in the darkroom. The outcome is a new form of non-representational photography more difficult to grasp than an abstract painting. Don’t photos always have to reproduce reality? Doesn’t something concrete always lie concealed behind an abstraction? We try to discern something familiar in the image, only to conclude: all there is is what we see; there’s nothing behind it.
The enlargement of the analogue original produced in the darkroom to monumental scale is part of this process. It is a characteristic of photography, which here, enters into competition with the large format of painting: classically, the enlargement reveals the detail. In Tillmans’s work, however, there is no secret to be revealed. On the contrary, the size of the photograph tempts the gaze to wander. Our perception begins to “swim” – to a place where nothing is conceptually defined. Like his photos of people, interiors and landscapes, Tillmans’s abstract works train our sense of sight in a mode of seeing free of ideology. They demand our desire for unseen images.
© Wolfgang Tillmans