Guy Tillim

Avenues of Dreams

After time has taken its toll, photographs, like ruins, appear as material witnesses to their own demise. While photographic prints in particular often lose their intensity of color over the course of time, the wear and tear or even decay of buildings indicate the age of the material used in their construction. This reference to the finite nature of all things also harbours a mysterious, aesthetic force. Some might see the decrepit buildings as historic landmarks.

Guy Tillim, born in Johannesburg, knows the conventions of modern pictorial media very well. As a former member of Afrapix, a group of South African documentary photographers, and a freelance photojournalist for major press agencies, he took photographs based on certain topics. After several years, however, he turned his back on conventional photojournalism with the aim of giving his work more depth and a new aesthetic direction. Instead of illustrating specific topics for different assignments as before and supplying images which he more or less "imposed" on the places he visited, he decided on a new approach: from then on, Tillim took photographs that corresponded to his own, personal view of the world and in which he gave his motifs their own voice instead of a ready-made one. By dispensing with the filter of conventional narratives, he created scenes that were inevitably open to interpretation and skilfully avoided the dictates of unambiguity.

His series "Avenue Patrice Lumumba" is named after the first freely elected and still revered prime minister of the Republic of the Congo following its independence from Belgian colonial rule. The title already hints at the quiet melancholy inherent in the pictures. Lumumba, who was assassinated by political opponents in January 1961 with the help of the USA and Belgium, just months after being elected, also represents the tragic history of a continent that is still caught up in conflicts, crippling trade deals and paralyzing dependency to this day. The buildings in his photos from the 1960s and 1970s, which Tillim came across in the Congo, in Ghana, Benin, Angola, Mosambique or in Madagascar, appear as stone witnesses to a long-gone past. Despite the busy streets, the world in his photographs seems to be in the grasp of a strange stasis. Only the traces of their reconversion and dissolution enshroud the images like the active signs of a cultural reinterpretation.

Maybe that is why Tillim is so fond of the long shot in "Avenue Patrice Lumumba" - the size of the image provides a view of the world that always permits more than it excludes within the chosen frame. At the same time, it creates scope for the viewer's imagination, as he embarks on a journey through what Tillim himself calls the "avenues of dreams".

Biographical information

1962

born in Johannesburg, South Africa

1986–1994

starts photographing professionally and working with the Afrapix collective

2004

receives the Daimler Chrysler Award for South African Photography solo exhibition “Johannesburg” at the South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

2017

wins the HBC Award presented by the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

lives in Vermaaklikheid, Western Cape, South Africa