Between 2000 and 2001 Tillmans concentrated much of his energy on making abstract works (such as the series of Blushes) as well as making semi-abstract ‘intervention’ pieces (for example, I don’t want to get over you 2000). In Blushes fine, thread-like lines, apparently drawn with light, swim over the surface of the photographic paper, and create delicate, fluid patterns. Pictorially they are closer to painting, but they were all made using the photographic process, manually exposing photo-sensitive paper to different light sources in the darkroom. By making purely abstract images Tillmans was both challenging assumptions about what a photograph should be and refuting our expectations about his own practice. The Blushes are suggestive of the body, as fibres or pores, and the gestural strokes in Tillmans’ landscape interventions also possess a corporeal quality. In I don’t want to get over you the image has been deliberately manipulated, with the expanse of blue sky offset by a stroke of green and fine brown lines that seem to dissolve into smoke.
Even when focusing on figuration Tillmans introduces abstract elements. His photographs of the London Underground in 2000, for example, could be read as ‘abstract studies of surface textures’ as much documentation of people pushed together on the Tube. One image is a close-up of someone’s armpit, another is a view of two legs: combat trousers against pin-stripes.