Both executed in 1992, Lutz & Alex, Schwanzgriff and Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees are among Wolfgang Tillmans’ most recognisable photographs. Lutz and Alex – who featured in some of the very first images Tillmans made as a teenager, and are members of a circle of close friends who recur in different situations and cities across decades of his work – star in two arresting compositions. In Lutz & Alex, Schwanzgriff, a topless Alex, wearing a Chanel scarf as a skirt, grips the naked genitals of Lutz, who sports a vest of what looks like insulation foam. Standing face-on against a white open sky, they gaze in opposite directions off-camera as if lost in thought, their dreamy expressions humorously at odds with their outlandish outfits and frank physical contact. In Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees, the pair perch on branches at different heights amid lush greenery, nude apart from large overcoats: Lutz’s in glossy red leather, and Alex’s a military khaki. Alex meets our gaze with a vivid directness, while Lutz looks towards the ground.
These striking photographs were shot on location on the Dorset coast for ‘Like Brother Like Sister’, an eight page photo story Tillmans published in the 1992 ‘Sexuality Issue’ of i-D magazine, for whom he had been working since 1989. The magazine’s UK distributor refused to stock the issue due to the story’s explicit content, and it was later recalled from sale. Despite their unflinching depictions of nudity, however, these photographs are more utopian than they are erotic. Dressing up and posing outdoors, Lutz and Alex exhibit a comfortable playfulness and assurance that captures something of the political edge of Tillmans’ work in the European fashion and club scenes: his images depict people who are part of a community but also totally free in their self-expression, moving among one another in physical and spiritual openness.
Tillmans’ ideal vision of his generation as a fabric of liberated individuals also parallels the display of his own work, in which single images recur in different scales and contexts as part of installations that juxtapose old and new work, constantly shifting size, character and impact as standalone photos and as part of a living, interconnected whole. Here, for example, Lutz & Alex, Schwanzgriff is presented in an inkjet print nearly two metres in height (unique plus one artist’s proof), while Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees is from an edition of three 70 x 60 centimetre prints. Whether framed, mass-produced on magazine pages or inkjet-printed on a grand scale, Tillmans’ images are treated as a plastic, ever-evolving material that allows growth, evolution and change, encountering and re-encountering one another like old friends who create something new each time they meet again.