Stephan Tillmans - The key elements are light and time.

Q: In the very beginning, what’s the initial reason for you to do this project?

It all started with my girlfriend’s TV, which is very old. One night we turned it off as usual. Somehow the breakdown of the picture seemed to be very bright and I started switching it on and off again and again. I then had to get out my camera right away and tried to capture these structures of light. When I realized later on that every old TV has its own variety of this effect, I got really excited. So in the very beginning there was the visual Idea. While collecting more and more old TVs, I started to deal with the science of the image and the theories of e.g. Gottfried Jäger and Lambert Wiesing. More precisely with the relationship of the abstract and concrete in photopraphy. That’s what I later wrote my Bachelor thesis about.

Q: Rather than taking photographs of other objects, why you’re fascinated by these television images? What makes you interest in it?

Since I discovered that every TV has it’s own character, and almost every time I take a photo the result is very different, I can’t walk by any old television without switching it on and off anymore. So since I began shooting Luminant Point Arrays, it’s almost like being addicted. I never know if the next shot is THE perfect one or just another black photo. And sometimes it takes hundreds of attempts to get a good picture. That’s because the moment is pretty short and I am taking the pictures by hand; one finger on the release of the camera and one finger on the on/ off switch of the TV. And I am capturing moving light with a pretty “long” exposure time. (In most cases it’s longer than 1/50s because of the 50Hz refresh rate of the TV). So only very few of the photos are as crisp and sharp as the ones I chose for the final series. So one of the main reasons I am photographing this series is out of curiosity.

Q: What is the process?

Since I don’t have a studio, I took all the photos in my apartment. In order to have complete darkness and to avoid reflections I set everything up in a kind of tent. This is also necessary to avoid dust and hair on the screen. When everything is clean and dark I am between the TV and the camera with one finger on the on/ off switch and one finger on the release. It takes a lot of time and patience to find the right setup for sharp and crisp results. In the beginning it took about 800 pictures to get THE picture. That’s why I am working with digital cameras here. Now think I have a pretty good setup and a good feeling to find the right moment to release the camera. But it still takes hours and sometimes days. The TVs I photograph are of different models and all sizes. This is how I achieve the wide range of motifs, though some televisions give better results than others. But not only the different TVs affect the result. Also shutter speed, timing and the time the TV has been running before I take the photo have an influence on the image we see later on. That’s why you can get lots of different images out of just one TV.

Q: What are the discoveries you have through out this project?

I don’t know where to start. I mean when doing a project like this, you discover things almost every day. The whole process of production has been very challenging for instance. Not only when taking the photos, I also really had a hard time printing the Luminant Point Arrays. The fine

structure of the motifs causes heavy moiré effects and it took a lot of proofs and experiments to achieve the quality I am having now. But also all the reactions I am getting online through blogs, twitter and facebook have been a discovery. My work has been spread all over the world within days.

Q: What did you choose this form to present the condition of the television?

I chose photography intuitionally. Later I started to experiment with video also. But I never got as clear, formal and beautiful results.

Q: What are the accounts/elements for you to recognize it is photography? And how would you consider your work “luminant Point arrays” as photography?

Not only that it technically is photography, but two of the key elements of this work are light and time. So it is photography referring to the major elements of photography. The question is whether the medium itself is the only existing reference? By pushing the switch of the TV, I am abstracting the TV picture. The external reference vanishes as the TV picture breaks down. So for the viewers the Luminant Point Arrays are not necessarily photography until they discover what the photo shows by reading the description. I like to ask people in the exhibitions what they think the Luminant Point Arrays are. Most people think of computer graphics. And I love the reactions when I reveal the origin of the motifs. It’s so great because everybody has seen this effect once before.

- The works show above: Luminant Point Arrays, Photographic Print 2010

- Originally published in FOAM #29: What's Next, a search into the future of photography