Like Gerhard Richter, whose often cited motto “lack of style as a stylistic principle” he endorses, Tillmans places figurative and abstract works on the same plane, almost as equivalents. His work is not so much based on content or the photograph as a referent, as the way in which a motif is depicted. He experiments with the possibilities of representing the world through the photographic image. Just as Richter explores and constantly pushes back the boundaries of painting, Tillmans investigates the limits and possibilities of photography.
His repeated confrontation with the materiality of the photographic surface (inkjet, offset, copies, magazine clippings), his rigorous study of light and his interest in abstract forms discovered in daily life, drive Tillmans to create works that come closer and closer to being completely abstract, such as Blushes, Mental Pictures and Freischwimmer, images created entirely in the darkroom without the aid of a camera. By using light to intervene directly on the chemical surface of the paper, the artist takes the photographer’s work back to its foundations, almost as if he were seeking the very essence of photography, the Greek root of which means “writing with light”. Tillmans works directly on the surface of the photographic paper and creates images that refer to no other reality than their own, with palpable subtle and material effects. These images are hybrids that straddle the pre-established boundaries of the pictorial and the photographic media.