Guy Tillim was born in Johannesburg in 1962. He started photographing professionally in 1986 and joined Afrapix, a collective of South African photographers, with whom he worked closely until 1990. As a freelance photographer in South Africa, he worked for the local and foreign media, including Reuters between 1986 and 1988 and Agence France Presse in 1993 and 1994. Tillim has received many awards for his work, including the Prix SCAM (Société civile des auteurs multimédia) Roger Pic Prize in 2002, the Higashikawa Overseas Photographer Award in 2003, and the 2004 Daimler/Chrysler Award for South African Photography.
Tillim often creates grave portraits of contemporary African cities. Primarily working in sub-Saharan Africa, he has made several bodies of work that examine the legacy of colonialism, especially as exhibited in architecture. For his series Jo’burg, Tillim roamed Johannesburg’s dense and decaying neighborhood of Hillbrow, an area dramatically affected by social and political changes during South Africa’s transition out of apartheid. Crowded, dirty, and seemingly uninhabitable, the old apartment buildings and crumbling skyscrapers in Tillim’s images reveal living conditions for contemporary Africans that are nearly apocalyptical. Initially a “white-only” area, Hillbrow began, in the 1970s, to accommodate waves of poor people from the townships and immigrants from surrounding war-torn and economically challenged African nations. Parts of Johannesburg, which was once considered “the New York of Africa,” are now the nation’s most dangerous and feared neighborhoods. In Tillim’s images, we see a startling portrait of modernism where the promise of concrete, steel, and glass has given way to poverty, crime, and a broken social contract. His work is striking and has gained him a multitude of accolades as well as international shows.
In 2005 he won the Leica Oskar Barnack Award for Jo’burg. He has exhibited extensively around the globe, including shows in Rome, Brazil, Austria, Germany, and his native Johannesburg. Twenty-five of his pieces from the Avenue Patrice Lumumba project were on view at Lannan Foundation Gallery in 2011. In July 2016 Tillim’s work was included in Lannan Foundation’s exhibition (Infra) Structure.