"What do we attribute value to, and what, as a society, do we allow? What do we consider beautiful or not? What are we allowed to look at and supposed to look at, and how we look at it is at the core of what I do," Wolfgang Tillmans remarked towards the end of a tour through the latest iteration of his expansive exhibition, To Look Without Fear, which opened at SFMOMA this weekend. 

From the outset of his career, the German photographer has consistently questioned and subverted the prevailing conventions of photography, genre, and presentation, pioneering new approaches to the medium that continue to influence generations of artists. As he walked through the various galleries in the exhibition, loosely charting his work from the early 1980s to today, Tillmans stressed that his work was a celebration of photography and its many different physical and material manifestations. "To work exactly on the border," he explained, "of 'Is there something there, or is there nothing?' That is what I do. And that changes every year." This constant experimentation and constant reexamining of what is and isn't worthy of being documented, made material, and shared has been essential to his work from the beginning. Often, the things that are important to make a point of are serious. But if there is anything that we can learn from this exhibition, it is that this doesn't mean that everything in our lives should be taken seriously. "I find that play is something that is almost written out of art history," says Tillman, "because, of course, art is always considered more important when it's serious. But I think the importance of play in an artist's life, but in everybody's life, is highly underestimated."