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Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.

Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.

Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.

Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.

Wolfgang Tillmans, 1997


Besides being one of our all-time favorite photographers, Wolfgang Tillmans was our cover photographer throughout our first year, helping to establish the index style right from the start. Over the course of the last year, his portraits for us were surprising, poignant, playful, strange, thoughtful, and sexy — in short, everything you would hope for in another human being. With our collaboration coming to an end after six wonderful pictures, we wanted to talk with Wolfgang about his work. We called him at home in London, where he'd just done "the ultimate fashion story" — Kate Moss for Vogue.

PH: How are things in London?
WT: Well, I'm enjoying myself, not for the first time, but …

PH: What's London like nowadays?
WT: There's not much change in my perspective, or at least the reasons why I love London have always been the same, and so the international hype around London doesn't really affect me that much.

PH: Why do you love London?
WT: Well, because of the music, the street, you know, the whole club culture.

PH: I haven't spent much time in London, but the way people socialize there is very distinctive. It seems different than in America or in Europe. Do you pick up on that?
WT: I find it is different from America, but I'm not sure where the exact difference is. It's like, the pub rules that you have to drink in certain hours and you have to drink as much as possible in those hours.

BN: Can you be sober and have a good time in London?
WT: I think so, yes. But, I mean, it's also much more fun being drunk. And that's one thing I like, that people are pretty unashamed about losing themselves.

PH: Aha!
WT: Which is a nice difference to New York where …

BN: … people are ashamed.
PH: I've noticed that the English people I know really like to party.
WT: Yeah, but I think everyone would like to party. Americans like to party as well. It's just that there are different fashions.

BN: My years of partying are behind me.
PH: We don't party in New York anymore, you know.
WT: Yeah, it's all about controlling yourself.

PH: Yes. And anybody else you can get a hold of. [laughter] Well, actually, that makes me think about your photographs. You're certainly not a control freak. You talked about the freedom of going into a situation without expectations.
WT: Yeah. I have to note that abandoning control of a situation doesn't mean I'm giving up control of the process, as a whole. So, I'm actually very precise about the way I work. But part of that precision is to know where my precision starts and ends. And there are moments where I can't control that anymore. Because I can't control human relations, especially not with people, so I don't even know.

PH: But you once said something very evocative to me, that you had sort of taught yourself not to look for a photograph, not to look for anything when you went into a situation.
WT: Yeah, because that is like photographing according to a recipe. If you go into a shoot with an idea, you only get that idea and you cut yourself off from the chance of getting a much better picture. And I guess that's the problem that a lot of photographers probably have — that they don't trust the situation they are putting themselves into. So they have a safety net and they don't even try to leave that. But I find it intriguing to expose myself to somebody that I've not met, and see what happens. Take a possible alienation as a positive result, and make that into a picture.

BN: Didn't you once say that you showed the person a little bit of your own vulnerability when you were photographing them?
WT: Yeah. I think because I feel like, pretty much on a par with the person that I photograph. I mean, on a human level, that we are all just human beings, and pretty much made of the same material. I can allow myself to be vulnerable, but I can't actually pretend that I'm not vulnerable.

PH: It's a tall order — you're familiar with the whole dialogue about the power of the photographic gaze, and so forth. Are you working consciously against that? Or is it something you just sort of want to dismiss?
WT: I'm just very aware of the impossibility of that. I mean, look at the Larry Brown cover I did for you. There was a most impossible situation — meeting this fundamental Christian football player in the Crescent Hotel in Dallas, for a luxury breakfast …

PH: I guess that's not really empowered is it?
WT: Exactly. Or meeting Mira Nair in her editing suite when she's got all the rest of the world to think about. And so, to pretend that I am in control of the situation would be ridiculous. But somewhere on this planet we meet and have to get through this. So it's part of my process to make that work for me.

PH: Can I make an analogy, that if the camera has sometimes been thought of as a weapon, that you kind of use it as a toy? I don't want to call it childlike, but there's a sort of pop-joy that one gets from your pictures. You also don't use a lot of equipment, so it's almost like a little kid going around with an Instamatic, just snapping away.
WT: Yeah, I mean, I find my best work is when I'm positively thrilled by what is in front of me.

PH: What gets me about your photographs, that separates you from other photography today is that you seem to connect with people rather than look at them cynically. And in your pictures, life looks very worth living, you might say. It's hard for me to express.
WT: It's also difficult for me, without sounding corny, I guess. But, of course, I love life and I have a positive outlook on things. I have idealistic intentions with my work. And I want to put some image of my vision of humanity into the medium. And I find that basically is a political kind of work.

PH: Yeah, it really comes across.
WT: Because there is this imbalance towards stupid representations of people in today's media.

PH: And you really are not a snob about people being young outsiders or famous and beautiful. It's like, you want to take it all in.
WT: Yeah, without actually pretending that I'm … that there is a big family or anything like that. There are certain misconceptions and one of them is that I photograph my friends and my family, and it probably arises because they all look like friends.

PH: I actually thought that was only a small portion of your work.
WT: Yeah.

PH: I imagined you going around on trips and maybe meeting people, or them being sort of random situations?
WT: No, I hardly ever pick people off the streets or in clubs … almost never really.

BN: I'm thinking of the word "democratic," because when I started looking at more of your photographs, I couldn't always tell the difference between what were personal pictures, and what was commercial work. And I realized there's a kind of blurring between them in your work. In other words, with some photographers, their commercial work looks like it's what they were hired to do. And the other work is personal. But in yours they kind of flow into each other much more.
WT: I just make my work, and there's only one kind of work that I do. But then, I put it out into the world, and it instantly starts to travel. People start to claim it for whatever field they think it sits in. So I actually don't control the framework in which my work circulates.
My staged work looks so real that people actually take it for documentary. But, in fact, that is my intention, to disguise the manufacturedness of it. Half of my work, or probably more than that, is staged.

PH: This is contradictory to what you were saying at first, that you went into shoots without pre-expectations.
WT: That's the thing, I go into an index cover shoot without expectations because there is nothing I can expect because I don't know who I'm meeting. But there are a lot of themes and images that I have in my head, that I stage with people, with models. And then, in order to distribute them into the world, you use fashion channels. So I use the fashion magazine kind of as my platform to publish my storyboards. I inject my personal visions into the world, by making them look real, or looking like a club shot or like a fashion shot.
But actually, what I do is I enact situations with my models or friends so I can see what they look like. There's the photo of those people sitting in the trees. Or those people lying on the beach. The woman with her hands wrapped around her head. All those were planned images.

PH: But by "staged" you just mean you move people around a bit?
WT: No, I tell them what to do, and I choose the clothes, I choose the location, and I set them up in their positions.

BN: It sounds a bit like a little scene from a movie …
WT: Yeah, but it's a kind of post-art photography. It's no longer about — "Look how much an artist I am, how controlled it is." It's confident enough to use photography to its fullest extent without constantly pointing at how I'm controlling the whole process.

PH: Do you identify strongly with the cinema verité tradition, or the street photography tradition?
BN: There was the famous TV series, An American Family, where the everyday life of a California family was filmed in their own house for a whole year.
WT: No, I'm actually not very interested in finding, in collecting these moments. I'm looking for the one definitive picture of a person or a situation.

PH: Who are your favorite photographers?
WT: Nick Knight, I have to name as the first. He's the best fashion photographer of this moment, I would say. I saw his work in the '80s in London. He was the first photographer whose name I ever recognized, and the first who taught me that photography is a relevant medium.

BN: Who else do you like?
WT: Well, I don't really know. I like Andy Warhol as …

PH: As a photographer?
WT: As an image-maker, without so much discerning between the two. Most art that I'm interested in is based somehow on the photographic process, and so you can also say Richter and …

BN: It doesn't necessarily have to be a photo? It can be painting?
WT: Yeah.

PH: I always get the impression that you started taking pictures when you were like, six years old? You seem to have that kind of natural relationship …
WT: It's pretty much the opposite, because I tried all sorts of things, but the last was photography. Maybe because my family is such a keen amateur photographer family. So photography was a really kind of un-cool thing … we were forced to view slide shows by my father.
It was really the only medium that I didn't experiment with. But in '87 the first black-and-white laser copier from Canon came into town, and I discovered its power to enlarge copies to 400 percent, not with mirrors, but with a digital process. So I started photocopying things — also pictures that I took on holidays, dissolving photographs though the pixillation and the high-magnification of the Canon machine.
Then I needed more photos after I had done a few little shows with that work, so I bought a camera.

BN: When did you buy your first camera?
WT: In '88. I was 20. And then, after a while of continuing to work on the copier, I realized that the photographs were better than the manipulations. Since I started with manipulating photographs, I never really went into making the process visible.

PH: When you do an exhibition, you still are very much an installation artist who uses photographs.
WT: Yeah, but it's not exactly so much about remodeling a teenager's bedroom or an art director's clipboard, which people sometimes think.

PH: I don't read it that way at all.
WT: Yeah, I mean, neither do I.

PH: Your installations do a lot with the space in the room.
WT: Yeah, it starts off with … that I want to reflect the way I look at the world, that I have an inclusive vision of the world. That I am aware of the fact that I'm now looking at the sky, but now I'm looking at my feet. And next, looking at the phone. That they are all these different parallel things causing visual sensations and thoughts and ideas. And that I'm interested in various aspects of life, and I want to give them space and representation.

PH: You make photography look easy, like just snapping a picture. Is it easy for you?
WT: It's probably easier than for other people. But it's not really easy at all because it's hard work. It's not necessarily hard work at that very second, but it's a lifetime of actually making visual decisions, and training the eye … and training the brain. It's a lot about thinking about pictures. I find that 80 percent of my time and work is spent actually looking at pictures.

PH: It was so amazing the way you chose cover photographs for us. We had agreed that you would choose the photograph for each cover. And I was so surprised almost every time the photograph came in. They really represented your taking a lot of responsibility for a certain amount of risk.
WT: Yeah, because it is about one particular image. And I find that, in the end, there is only one best picture even though there are a million possibilities. But for that one moment and one purpose, there is only one choice. And when there is one choice, then I'm very prepared to defend that.

PH: But do you struggle over that? Or does the choice come to you naturally?
WT: No, that's the thing, if I find there are equal choices, I show them. We're all aware anyway that we're being photographed, and that's something that maybe I'm not trying to circumnavigate.

PH: One thing that I'm impressed with is even though you're still a young person, I find that there's been a lot of growth in your work in the last couple of years. And it so much seems to reflect growth as a human being. I mean, your pictures seem to be getting more and more expansive and psychologically insightful.
WT: Um … that's probably the hard thing about what I'm doing. Again, without wanting to sound pretentious or whatever, what I'm really struggling with is to keep that growth factor in there, and not be overrun by all sorts of … it would be so easy to lose the plot now.
It's not about achieving something for its own sake, and taking pictures for their own sake. But to make conscious decisions and choices, and it includes this constant questioning — "Why am I taking pictures?" Because really, the world is … it has pictures enough. I mean, there are enough pictures out there.

PH: Your picture of Udo Kier was so extraordinary, because it's not usually how Udo chooses to appear. He usually tries to appear rather magisterial. And in your picture he looks kind of like a little boy.
WT: Yeah.

BN: I felt that Larry Brown came off looking like a mischievous little boy.
WT: Well, that is like …

PH: That's the magic.
WT: Maybe. That's what I mean when I say I feel on a par with the people I photograph. I am strongly aware of me being, not a little boy, but a little human being. I very much see other people as that, and only as that. So I'm looking for that, and trying to look through the public persona that first meets the eye.

BN: Now you just photographed Kate Moss …
PH: Actually it would be fascinating to hear about that, because there is somebody who is photographed all the time, who has a very well-known public presence. So what happened with that?
WT: Well, I was going into it after a lot of agonizing about if I really wanted to do it, and I felt really under pressure to succeed.

BN: It was for Vogue, right?
WT: Yeah, American Vogue. And I also really wanted to succeed within those parameters.

PH: Was the assignment to do with clothes, or to do with her?
WT: It was a fashion story on chinoisserie. But the story line was kind of like, me meeting her. So she came to my studio in London — it's actually where I live — and we spent two days together. It sounds much too romantic, of course, because it was a photo shoot situation with hair and makeup and styling. And so, I was thinking, this can't work, and it hasn't worked in the past for me. But then I thought, well, if I'm supposed to be a fashion photographer, I should do the ultimate fashion story — Kate Moss for American Vogue.
I went into it without any preconceptions, without trying to be cynical or clever about fashion. And so I allowed myself to be overwhelmed by her beauty. Because when she really is in front of you, she is just incredibly beautiful.

PH: She is?
WT: Which is quite a revelation, just how that works. I mean, she's already beautiful when she comes in off the street, but then they do the hair and makeup, and put on clothes, and suddenly it all comes together.
Then when I went to the photo shop to look at the prints, they looked just like Kate Moss. And that was quite incredible, because during the shoot it didn't look like the complete picture. She is actually about putting together that whole look …

BN: That's her job.
WT: There has been a lot of endless talk about supermodels, but it was quite impressive how much talent is needed for that. I could see it in front of my eyes, how she completely worked it.

PH: I always wondered about that. What makes that talent? Is it a sense of body language? Or knowing what the camera will see?
WT: She was very aware of the whole process. I mean, she wasn't trying to be a model. She was completely aware of the irony of the whole thing, making fun, and imitating other models. Making fun about the projection of what she's supposed to embody. But at the same time, not being really cynical.

PH: So you all must have gotten along very well?
WT: Yeah. It was fun. And also, we — meaning my boyfriend and me — tried to make this as much like our home as possible. So it was probably a different experience for her as well.

BN: Wait a second. When you said she spent two days there, did she actually sleep over and eat with you?
WT: No, no. She stayed in a big hotel or something.

BN: But she didn't just come in and have her picture taken and leave? You spent time together …
WT: Well, she came in the morning and left in the early evening. The pattern was pretty much just like a fashion shoot. Putting on a new outfit every hour, having the hair done three times an hour, the face touched up. So the things you talk about aren't incredible.

PH: I've always wondered how photographers and film makers keep their concentration when the hair person is busy, and you're just waiting?
WT: Well, concentration doesn't necessarily flow all the time. We think that concentration is a continuous thing, but actually it is about just peak moments. So I was actually very happy with the people interrupting when it was necessary, when it was for the good of the whole picture. And it was interesting to see all the things that were unacceptable for a picture, like any bit of hair hanging loose is an instant no-no. The situation was very much about trying to make something that I liked, but that Vogue will still like. It's probably not the most important thing in my life, but it was something that I've been thinking about for quite a while.

BN: Is there anyone that you really want to photograph that you haven't?
WT: One thing I am interested in is the iconography of our time. Like, the last thing that I saw driving out of New York was a huge billboard of Kate Moss. So that is something that intrigues me, to then photograph her. So I usually answer that question — Michael Jackson. I guess that would be the ultimate.

PH: I met Michael Jackson.
WT: Really? Where?

PH: On a plane to Paris. I saw this guy standing in the front of the plane, and he was wearing a black leather surgical mask and a black cowboy hat …
WT: No!

PH: … and mirrored sunglasses, and black clothes. And I thought, "gosh, this is a very well-dressed hijacker." But he said "hi" to everybody on the plane and we had a little talk about art. I told him I was an artist and he asked me if I did realistic art. And I said, no, I did abstract art.
BN: You asked him who his favorite artists were.
PH: And they were all Renaissance artists like Leonardo.
WT: Half a year ago he was in Cologne because there's a big theme park near Cologne, and he had it closed down for a day so he could go there. But then the next day he just walked into Walter Koenig's and spent two hours buying dozens of art books.

PH: He's incredibly charismatic.
BN: If you ever get to photograph him you have to take a picture of his hands.
WT: Oh, really?

PH: Yeah, I thought he had the most amazing hands I'd ever seen. And it was very strange because he was all masked and stuff, but when he talked to you, he sat close and established this sort of intimacy, so you had this bizarre feeling of seductiveness and aloofness at the same time. It was very powerful.
WT: Wow. On that level that we all are human beings, it would be interesting to try to make contact with that sort of person. I mean, where is that human being in Michael Jackson?

PH: Well actually, after a five minute conversation I came away with one overwhelming impression, that this person had more will than anybody I had ever met before. He's very soft-spoken and strange. But he just radiated will. It was unbelievable.
WT: I find that really intriguing. I guess that is something that probably most stars have.

PH: Well, he is more than a star. I also went away with this image of the Renaissance artist doing everything. I mean, he does dance, he does music, he said he does all the videos himself, and he does architecture.
WT: Architecture?

PH: Well, you know, his whole theme park.
WT: Neverland.

PH: Yeah, it's like an architectural complex of a certain kind. So I mean, he does everything. It's really impressive, if you think about it.
WT: So he would be the ultimate choice. But then again, it could be anyone, really.

PH: You've just had a big museum show in Europe, and now your photos are at the Museum of Modern Art. I get the impression that you'd like to have people looking at them who don't usually go to museums.
WT: Well, I achieve that through my book publishing practice, and magazine publishing. So when I'm working in a gallery or museum it's very much about that particular audience. It's very much about the experience for me of making the most tension and, at the same time, the most equilibrium in one room.
It's about the five days before the opening that I've been working in that room at MoMA. That's really what I take away from it. And then it comes as a bonus to know that hundreds of thousands of people apparently come, thanks to the Jasper Johns show.

PH: Yeah, he really makes people go to museums that don't go to museums.
WT: Yeah. MoMA and the galleries in SoHo are actually the only places that make sense on a democratic level. Only the shows at Andrea's gallery and that MoMA show really gave me the impression that I'm dealing with a real public. The rest of the time, you're looking at like, 2,000 visitors, so it can't possibly be only about those viewers. It has to be something about myself that I'm trying to find out … that I use these exhibitions to find something out for myself.

PH: It's a more purist medium.
WT: Yeah. Yet, it's like the purist-research of my work. It's very much about the object, as well. The photograph as object. To find ways of actually doing this impossible thing of showing photographs in a gallery.
People haven't developed much imagination over the past 150 years to invent new forms of presentation. And so it's a pretty limited medium as an exhibition medium. It's very much about, "how can I get this excitement that I have from a print lying on my table into the gallery?"

BN: We've come to the end of your relationship with the magazine, which is sad, and I'm wondering what you're going on to next?
WT: Well, one thing I'm looking at is ways of coating the surface of my prints with something that makes glass and framing permanently redundant.

PH: Oh, how great.
WT: I really want to push that one bit further. I mean, people are actually still thinking it's a slap-dash grungy presentation. But it's actually the most purist presentation because there is no glass and frame. It's just the pure sheet. And so I want to push that forward.

BN: So you've got some technical research.
WT: Archival research, because the problem is that museums can't keep those installations on the wall like that forever. But at the same time, I just really want to have a break. A break from speaking through shows. I just have such a multitude of possibilities to express myself that it has become a bit demanding. Now I want to again generate more pressure inside myself, and think about what I really want to say.

PH: Now, if you went on holiday to the beach, would you leave your camera at home?
WT: It's not a problem. I take the camera anyway. And maybe I leave it in the hotel. Or maybe take it with me one day. If I have it with me, it's not a burden and I don't feel obliged to take a picture. But if I don't have it with me, I usually don't come into situations where I say, "Shit, I wish I had my camera." Because I only take pictures two or three days of the month anyway.

PH: That's a great job.
WT: Well, the 27 other days I'm thinking about it.  

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