Drawing with light

Wolfgang Tillmans, Freischwimmer 26, 2003

The relationship between painting and photography is has also been explored by Wolfgang Tillmans in work made over the last decade or so. For Tillmans the work starts and ends with photographic process, but in making the images the fundamental notion of photography as drawing with light is used to make images that feel much closer to painting than photography. These are large-scale, painterly abstract pictures are made without a camera; the photographic paper simply records the light Tillmans directs at it.

Freischwimmer 79, 2004

Though the images are abstract, there is a sense that these are drawings of moving light, somehow made liquid by the recording process. The images suggest a process of chemistry, or, more accurately perhaps given that there is a hint of the magical, of alchemy. Some of the pictures hint at strange underwater lifeforms. Hairlike strands move across the paper, often going in and out of focus as they do so. There is the visual complexity of a detailed drawing, yet there is a glow of empty space and a minimal colour palette.

Freischwimmer 102, 2004

These are quietly beautiful pictures made on a scale that means they demand attention even as they provide a calm, contemplative space. This is the sort of work that benefits from being given time to work its way under the skin. The emptiness of the pictures – and most do have large pale areas – offsets the intricacy of the drawings they contain.

Tillmans has explored the nature of photography and its analogue processes in other bodies of work, but it is in the Freischwimmer series that things come together for me. Though I think there may be more interesting ideas in play in other series, it’s the pale beauty of these that holds me, coupled with the intensity of the strands of colour, flowing like hair through the space of the picture, sometimes seeming to dissolve into a hazy glow, all but vanishing in a puff of out-of-focus smoke.

Freischwimmer 54, 2004

2 thoughts on “Drawing with light

  1. These are fabulous. I love what you say about ‘chemistry’ tipping over into ‘alchemy’ – about as good a definition of Art(s) as I’ve heard.

  2. Pingback: photograph print without a camera | Printshow International

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