Gray jeans draped languidly over a stair post; gen-xers frolicking naked in a tree; supermodels like Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell with their guard down and actually smiling. This is the world of London-based photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, now 34 and already an eminent artist with a decade's worth of work behind him. His first museum exhibition in the U.K. opens June 7 at the Tate Britain, in London.
Tillmans didn't invent the snapshot-youth culture aesthetic, but he perfected it. His beautifully installed shows in New York and London—of large and small prints, some framed, some just taped to the wall, interspersed with pinned-up magazine spreads—did for ravers, lunchtime still lifes, and uninhibited sex what Nan Goldin in the eighties did for New York artists, bathroom still lifes, and uninhibited sex. His genius, however, is not what he shoots but how he shoots it. His best work turns heads—and keeps them riveted—not because it's lurid or hip but because it effortlessly inhabits multiple worlds: photography, art, fashion, travel, documentary, diary. Tillmans sees, and comments on, everything. He's Oscar Wilde with a backpack and a buzz cut.