LIKE MOST SALON PHOTOGRAPHERS, Wolfgang Tillmans takes pictures he would have us “take” as diaristic impressions—images of places seen and people observed in them, generally arranged around occurrences that project the fly-by-night. The genesis of the style is not so much in the old New York school of photography (Diane Arbus’ early 35-mm. work, say) as in images that are less emotionally based (the subjects are, rather, visually “interesting”), more driven by narrative, if of seeming randomness. Compare Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn, say—a novel of fast cuts, a third-person voice that drifts off into shared, boring emotional messiness, and the writer’s exchange with his subject as a frame. Like Garry Winogrand’s photographs, Tillmans’ work seems less photography per se than some literally visionary literature in a non-rhetorical voice.

The subjects of Tillmans’ art are complicit

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