`To see a world in a grain of sand
and a heaven in a wildflower
to hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour'
- William Blake.
The Spanish art curator Rafael Doctor once wrote that London-based German-born photographer Wolfgang Tillmans had an amazing ability to see the whole in something small and mundane. Last year the judges of Britain's Turner Prize acknowledged this gift, making hTillmans the first photographer ever to win the Prize.
As an openly gay artist Tillmans's images have inspired fear and loathing among certain sections of the British press for some time, but subsequent to his Turner Prize victory the condemnations became more frequent and febrile. A photograph of a naked man urinating on a chair prompted such headlines as, `Turner Prize Winner is a Photographer Who Specialises in Shaved Private Parts.' He was labelled an amateur pornographer - `amateur' because Tillmans takes great care to make his work appear spontaneous and unplanned. The Mirror Newspaper even sponsored a contest, `Have you Taken a Better Picture?' in which readers were encouraged to submit their favourite snapshots.
Admittedly, this is all good for business. Controversy is de rigeur for contemporary artists. While some, like Tracy Emin, court controversy with disingenuous contrivances (getting drunk and swearing on national television), Tillmans's transgressive aesthetics are the genuine article. His notions of beauty and his sense of playfulness naturally espouse an alternative agenda. A man sitting on an aeroplane with his exposed penis seemingly eating from a lunch tray is, for Tillmans, both beautiful and funny. People might denounce such images as offensive to public morality, but what they are really reacting against is the artist's aesthetics - his idea of beauty, which does not correspond to their own.
After making his name is the early Nineties chronicling the underground rave scene throughout Europe (photographing ecstasy-fuelled dancers whilst high on the drug himself) Tillmans caught the style magazines' attention in 1992 with a fashion spread for i-D magazine's celebrated Sex Issue. Lars Von Trier's `The Idiots' had its precedent in this work, in so far as both depict normal subjects wilfully engaged in abnormal behaviour. The pictures were deemed `shocking' because the nudity was so raw and unstaged: in one, a man bends down to examine a woman's cunt, in another the same couple (close friends of Tillmans) stand side by side, the man wears a life-jacket while the woman grasps his cock. The disarmingly natural edge to these images prompted one major British newsagent chain to withdraw the magazine from its shelves - on moral grounds, of course. One can only imagine the invective Tillmans's work would garner from the moral heavyweights of the Australian community, such as Arch-bishop Pell and ......... - (??? - Richard , I'm so sorry, and ashamed to admit it, but it is 4 years since I have been in Australia and I...