1x1 ON WOLFGANG TILLMANS: TO LOOK WITHOUT FEAR
Corinne on Gloucester Place, 1993
By the time Wolfgang Tillmans had taken this photograph, London was already his home. Having spent the first two years of the decade on England’s south coast, at art school in Bournemouth, the artist moved to the capital in 1992, where he lived for two years. It was perhaps inevitable: Tillmans had been exhilarated by his initial visits, taken as early as 1983, when he was fourteen. “I feel so indebted to London and English culture,” he told me during a conversation we had a few years ago, making reference to the city as “the big continuum of my life.”
Corinne on Gloucester Place is an image that represents a new era for the artist who captured it—as well as for the city that it documents. London was in transition. A year before the photograph was published, in the July 1993 issue of i-D, the beginnings of the European Union were in sight. Less than six months after the picture’s publication, the foundational treaty had become operational. Europe now meant something else. The photographs Tillmans produced during this period went hand-in-hand with the burgeoning mutation of a continent, and, while it may feel futile to define his photography through a single image (a point defended by the artist’s long-standing display methods, where numerous prints are arranged en masse), the portraits taken by Tillmans in the early 1990s could be recognized, maybe more than any of his other genres, as solely belonging to him.
As an image that featured in an editorial that the artist had conceived about army clothes, Corinne on Gloucester Place characterized where London was heading. The brazen woman who stands in the middle of the road is one of the many young people whom Tillmans photographed during this time. These cityscapes came to characterize a new-found energy; a cosmopolitanism. “I felt, like a lot of artists in the early 1990s, fascinated by the idea of constructing our own identities,” he later recounted. “Clothing was important to me … as meaning.” As an opponent of the war, and right-wing positions in general, Tillmans’s handling of the camouflage pattern marked an inversion: a sense of personal magnitude, perhaps, removed from the notion of collective authority. Added to this, in the case of Corinne, was an apron designed by the artist Rosemarie Trockel, as well as a wide expanse of gleaming bare skin. While the world created by Tillmans in such photographs, indicative of freedom and attitude, may have existed sparingly in real life, the potency of these compositions allowed them to be understood as a document of the zeitgeist.
Up until this point, young people had been photographed looking “slightly soft or apologetic of themselves,” as Tillmans explained it to me. He countered this with the belief that he and his peers were “strong people with strong persuasions.” Unlike other portraits from this moment, such as those of the artist’s friends, Alex and Lutz, which specifically focus on the physicality of the body, Corinne on Gloucester Place, to me, is compelling because of its context. It’s a picture about glamor and determination: about finding your self (-image) in the metropolis.