What is Guy Tillim up to these days?
Photographers had up until April 1 to submit their projects for the 2019 Leica Oskar Barnack Award – an award that proved extremely helpful to the photographer Guy Tillem, when he won it in 2005 for his Johannesburg Story series. It was a reportage dealing with the transformation of a city, from an urban enclave for the white minority, to an ‘African city’, as he likes to say. In his most recent series, Tillim once again focusses his attention on urban landscapes. His work is on display a the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson until June 2, 2019.
Looking back - what did the Leica Oskar Barnack Award in 2005 mean to you?
It was a world-renowned accolade at a delicate phase of my career. Having worked for two decades in the shadows, it helped my confidence and revolutionized my financial situation at the time. Very welcome indeed.
What advice would you give young photographers?
You know, the usual: find your passion, follow it, don’t eat if necessary in order pay for it....
What does a story need to stay in mind?
Ambiguity, obsession with the subject, and something of a concept that is beyond words.
Your Museum of the Revolution is currently being exhibited at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson. What is the series about?
These photographs were taken between 2014 and 2018, during long walks on the streets of the African cities of Johannesburg, Durban, Maputo, Beira, Harare, Nairobi, Kampala, Addis Ababa, Luanda, Libreville, Accra, Abidjan, Dakar and Dar Es Salam. They’re street photographs: an attempt to be a window onto those worlds.
Why are some of the pictures presented as diptychs or triptychs?
At times it can feel to me as if the single frame is imposing tyranny on a landscape. I was experimenting, amusing myself by suggesting a continuous scene when it was not.
The exhibition is accompanied by a book published by Mack Verlag. Did you always have a book in mind while shooting?
No. I started the work almost five years ago in Johannesburg having no idea where it might lead, or in what form.
How do you avoid common clichés?
I don’t. I just try to use them at the right time. One can’t avoid a cliché just by juxtaposing opposites of the sublime and ordinary. Each exists in its own right and in relation to the other. Avoiding hierarchical constructions in a picture is halfway to avoiding clichés.
How do you come up with the ideas behind your work as a photographer?
Photography is a mirror of my life: not of the loved ones, landscapes and objects that surround me, but in a speculative or metaphysical sense of the trials of life, the seen or unseen, intrepid voyages beyond my imaginary realm and the consequences of that kind of thing.
Many of the pictures were taken with a Leica SL. Can you sum up your thoughts about the camera in a few words?
It follows classic Leica tradition, just like my beloved M system. Flawless functionality and the picture data speaks for itself.
Born in Johannesburg in 1962, Tillim saw photography as his weapon in the fight against the Apartheid regime. In the eighties he worked as a reporter and joined Afrapix, the South African photo association. In 2005 he won the Leica Oskar Barnack Award. In more recent years, the photographer has been focussing primarily on conceptual land/cityscapes. Tillim lives near Cape Town and is represented by the VU’ Agency.
Credit Porträt: © Manuela de Leonardis