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Wolfgang Tillmans, 2007

WAG 2014.5

About this object

© the artist, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

This colour photograph by the German artist Wolfgang Tillmans shows a young man, Cameron, working at a London market stall. His gaze is direct, addressing both photographer and viewer. Characteristically for Tillmans’ portraiture, this photograph communicates on several levels.

In one respect this image of the market vendor is a timeless and beautiful portrait of a handsome young man, just as artists across the centuries have created. Whilst this is a highly contemporary image, its formal qualities also draw upon the conventions of historic portraiture. Throughout, there is typical attention to detail, including an element of traditional still life in the vivid, indeed cheekily suggestive green vegetables – the erotic symbolism often inherent in 17th-century Dutch and Flemish still life painting is wittily referenced. Cameron’s dominant and firmly placed hand appears earthy and solid. The tones of the his skin emphasise both strength and vulnerability, moving the viewer’s eye from hand to face. A focus upon skin is a recurrent device in Tillmans’ figurative studies, revealing the artist’s awareness of the precarious state of existence that we all share.

In this sense Tillmans also intended the photograph to reflect the reality of young contemporary artists in Britain today, who have to work in other jobs to sustain their art practice. Cameron is a part-time vendor who is supplementing his art practice by working on a market stall. Whilst Tillmans frequently works with his subjects to choreograph what one might suppose are spontaneous shots, Cameron’s stance appears highly constructed and determinedly posed. Enhanced by the sitter’s gaze, this composition confronts the viewer with the reality of Cameron’s social and economic situation.

Wolfgang Tillmans has regularly used his work as a unique form of activism through art. He has described this as having being motivated by his personal experience of growing up in a world which was, as a gay man, divided into acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. He argues that whether people like, or feel disgust, at seeing two male lips touching each other has political significance, because it impacts on millions of people’s lives. Driven by this political understanding of sexuality, he has aimed to interrogate and expand just what it is we find beautiful or indeed socially acceptable through his art. His own sexuality has also informed Tillmans’ acute awareness of the need to constantly fight for progressive causes and defend civil liberties. He has also used his art to draw attention to economic and social inequality, and to highlight the repressive mechanisms used to sustain the power of capitalism, Catholicism and Islamic fundamentalism. More recently he has devised a poster campaign in support of the ‘Remain’ campaign for the British European Union referendum.

‘Cameron’, 2007, is an editioned, framed c-type photographic colour print. (It is number 3 of an edition of 10 plus 1 artist's proof).

Object specifics

  • Artist(s)
    Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born:1968, died:unknown)
  • Date
  • Materials
    C-print; Paper
  • Measurements
    paper: 40.6 cm x 30.5 cm
  • Physical description
    This is a colour portrait photograph of a young man standing behind a vegetable stall with his left hand resting on a plastic crate in front of him. He has sandy-red hair and wears a grey knitted jumper. In front of him, in the immediate foreground, are two oblong plastic crates. One contains broad beans, the other contains green beans. In front of them are white signs advertising lettuce. On top of the broad beans is a white plastic carrier bag which has leafy green carrot tops sticking out of it. In the background of the image are a stack of red and blue plastic palettes, a wooden fence and some foliage.
  • Related people
    Maureen Paley (Previous owner) ; Wolfgang Tillmans (Artist/maker, previous owner)
  • Other number(s)
    Daybook Number: FADB 2013.3
  • Credit line
    Purchased with the assistance of Art Fund in 2014
  • Location
    Item not currently on display
  • Collection
    From the Walker Art Gallery collections


Previous owners

  • Wolfgang Tillmans

    Owned from: 2007
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 2014
    Disposal method: Unknown or unrecorded
  • Maureen Paley

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 2014
    Disposal method: Unknown or unrecorded
Object view = Fine Art
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