Above: Artist's impression of the exoplanet Proxima Centauri b. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser.
This week art photographer Wolfgang Tillmans offered his political views in The Guardian. I much preferred Wolfgang's photography before I found out that he was an ardent liberal democrat and atheism activist. (Wolfgang seems a bit confused around this second topic though--for him the discovery of several Earth-like planets hundreds-of-light-years away is supposed to be evidence damning the "anthropocentric" views of "religious leaders on Earth.")
Wolfgang is so enamoured (in his article) by the ideology of liberal democracy (he campaigns for it) that it does not occur to him that, as Matthew Hutson has described, "liberals demonstrate their own intolerance using the strictures of political correctness as a weapon of oppression." It would not occur to Wolfgang that those with Faith find his hectoring atheism annoying and actually offensive. It would not occur to him that liberal democracy as per its current form, in the West at least, is utterly dysfunctional (and that being in itself a good reason not to back it further). And so too it does not occur to him that his campaign for greater acceptance of provable scientific facts on the World Wide Web is doomed and futile.
My reaction to being made aware of Tillmans's politics (so much less radical than his photos imply) is similar to watching an interview with Francis Bacon on BBC Arena as a teenager and realizing that he was a hardcore misogynist: it is more information than you wanted; just let the art stand alone (everything flows through the work).
Wolfgang must surely be the last of the great concerned liberal photographers--a modernist just surviving as wave after wave of the Digital Revolution breaks over his fragile images. In the end Wolfgang's basic position is really only this: be nice, be kind, and don’t be horrid to anyone--always be the best you can be, don't cheat; respect others (we can all live together with enough kindness) and let every person be who they want to be. It is morality and ethics as taught to four-year-olds.
(2 March 2018)