wolfgang tillmans interviewed by kate moss, hari nef, and, um, boris johnson

Photographer and Turner Prize winner Wolfgang Tillmans sits down with Lou Stoppard for a candid and revelatory interview on his life and work.

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Apr 12 2017, 1:39pm

Wolfgang Tillmans needs little introduction, but we'll give it a go. Turner Prize winner, frequent Frank Ocean collaborator, and subject of a mammoth ongoing exhibition at the Tate Modern, he began his career in the pages of i-D and has since gone on to be one of the world's most respected image-makers. The subject of SHOWstudio's latest In Camera film, Wolfgang recently sat down for a chat with Lou Stoppard in which he was pitched questions from the likes of Kate Moss, Hari Nef, Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant and, rather improbably, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, among others. Touching on his work, inspirations, and experience living with HIV, it is an interview as candid as it is revelatory, demonstrating exactly why the German-born photographer will always be an i-D i-Con. Watch it in full and read a few of our highlights below.

Kate Moss: What does freedom mean to you?
"It wasn't fought for by me, but it wasn't granted that it would be fought for by others. That I can live in freedom is the result of other people putting their ass on the line. Doing embarrassing things, doing challenging things… And I don't just mean gay liberation. I mean the French Revolution. Some people rose up in France 250 years ago and stopped a corrupt system, an oppressive system. And I'm just always aware that what we enjoy here is the result of history, of other people. It's our duty to protect that."

Neil Tennant: Do you think it's possible to influence the anti-Europe, pro-nationalist voters through your activist artworks, or are you just preaching to the converted?
"There is something true to that fundamental observation, the preaching to the converted thing. But one also has to remember that political activism or political art is actually also something that is made to encourage and keep the spirit of your comrades, of like-minded people. And to reach the ones most opposite to your view is the hardest. But if you think of it more as a process of osmosis, artwork and art is a powerful thing. You only have to look at the social advances in the 60s, 70s, 80s, they all had to do with art… In the end, art is only another word for culture."

Hari Nef: You once told me that "nice is the little sister of shit." How has this phrase manifested in your work?
"I'm not interested in the radical as opposed to nice. Because it is important to also get comfort from things but nice is the thing that is indifferent — passive and without conviction."

Boris Johnson: In exhibiting your work, has it been an advantage or disadvantage that English has increasingly become the language of global business?
"I think native English speakers are at a loss — which they don't notice, because the whole world seemingly speaks English. Of course, we all speak it with terrible accents or make terrible mistakes — which is the world's revenge on the English, that you have to listen to all these butchered versions of your mother tongue! But the problem is you go abroad and you find it much harder to pick up foreign languages because people want to speak to you in English.... You only get half the picture. You don't get the full range of thought or humor or nuance…. I think that learning languages is a huge eye-opener."

Read: We asked Wolfgang Tillmans's friends and collaborators — from Alex and Lutz to Frank Ocean — to ask him one question about his life and career.