Tillim was born in Johannesburg in 1962 and lives in Vermaaklikheid in the Western Cape.
He started photographing professionally in 1986, working with the Afrapix collective until 1990. His work as a freelance photographer in South Africa for the local and foreign media included positions with 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 (Societe Civile des Auteurs Multimedia) Roger Pic in 2002, the Higashikawa Overseas Photographer Award (Japan) in 2003, the 2004 DaimlerChrysler Award for South African photography, the Leica Oskar Barnack Award in 2005 and the first Robert Gardner Fellowship in Photography from the Peabody Museum at Harvard University in 2006. He is the 2017 recipient of the HCB Award presented by Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Solo exhibitions have taken place at the Centre Photographique d'Ile-de-France, Paris; Huis Marseille Museum of Photography, Amsterdam; Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris; Museu Serralves in Porto; the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, Cambridge, USA; FOAM_Fotografiemuseum in Amsterdam; Extracity, Antwerp; at Kunsthalle Oldenburg, Germany, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, among other institutions. His work was included on Documenta 12 in 2007 and the São Paulo Biennial in 2006, and the touring exhibitions Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life (2012-14) and Africa Remix (2004-7), among others. Guy Tillim has recently opened a survey exhibition titled O Futuro Certo at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome (MACRO).