Toucans are one of the most punnable species. No wonder Guinness trial of “zoo” mascots in 1930s found that the toucan took off, scoring high above the ostriches and tortoises…
Just take one topic, e.g. ‘Valentine’s Day’: ‘toucan of my affection’, ‘love toucan’, ‘not just a toucan gesture’, ‘toucan play that game’, ‘toucans take to tango’, ‘a romantic evening for toucans is toucans of Guinness and a packet of…’
And so this colourful cousin of the woodpecker (yes indeed, you’d be forgiven for assuming them to be the Barbara Streisands of the Parrot family) shot to fame thanks to a serendipitous grammatical coincidence of one of the most useful numbers + the #1 bestseller of the verb world…They came on my radar lately thanks to this one:
It’s by German artist Wolfgang Tillmans, whose exhibition at the Tate Modern opens today. Tillmans calls his works ‘images’ and not photographs. The ‘image’ is a careful composition of choices. Wolgang has cited colour as one of the areas of ‘choice’ over which the photographer, like a painter, has jurisdiction…
Read more about this photograph
Taking a closer look at this picture – I was surprised to find that there is no colour in the dazzlingly tropical toucan that isn’t also shared with it’s decidedly non-tropical, ephemeral surroundings.
The blue of the toucan’s eye socket makes the blue in the rim of the garden water pools more vivid. The orange glow of the toucan’s ‘eye shadow’ and beak somehow give the stale crusts in the tray below a tropical zest. The unimaginably white softness of the toucan’s neck and the warm sandy yellow round its lapels light up the cheap beige repetition of the tiled patio.
Turner Prize-winning artist Wolfgang Tillmans’ exhibition at the Tate Modern opens today. With this toucan and other shots, Tillmans demonstrates his principle of creating an image and not just a photo.
Each ‘image’ is not simply a capturing of a fleeting moment for our attention. It combines both passive observation and choreography. The photographer, in the taking and the developing, has made a set of choices that we could not make with the naked eye. Wolfgang has cited colour as one of the elements which the photographer uses to steer our view.
And so it’s not just a portrait of a toucan, but also it’s an exercise in colour appreciation. Through it we realise that our appreciation of colour is subject to context.
This has the unexpected subconscious side-effect of cheering up my dreary afternoon loo-trip – the ‘CAUTION CLEANING IN PROGRESS!’ flip board sign outside the Ladies is somehow less exasperating, I’m actually rather uplifted by it’s harmony of yellow and red, like the cheeky curved smile of a toucan’s bill. Subject for the next Turner Prize 😉 ?
More Tillmans and toucans
See the Toucan in real life at the Tate
Watch the artist himself discuss his approach to photography