Wolfgang Tillmans makes his breakfast. He waters the plants, hops on the subway, meticulously hangs prints at a gallery. For four years, Heiko Kalmbach shadowed the German photographer who rose to fame through spontaneous shots of late-night club life and common places. Following the subject’s cue, the director remains at a distance, trying to glimpse the creative process through the fleeting moments of Tillmans’s daily routines.
But the risk of such hands-off filmmaking is that the narrative itself can become mired in the mundane; there’s little that happens here to shed light on the way this renowned shutterbug works or thinks. In fact, outside a brief foray into directing (for a Pet Shop Boys music video), Tillmans’s life apparently involves very little artistry at all. This might be Kalmbach’s central point—being a celebrity allows almost no time for creativity—but his refusal to question anything leaves even that thread unrealized. Tillmans’s photos may be observational, but even he makes the difficult decisions of what to crop and which shots deserve public viewing. That curatorial heft is sorely missing from Kalmbach’s final edit; it’s a portrait that neither feels forced nor fully formed.—S. James Snyder
Opens Fri; Anthology.