There’s Less Room For The Unexpected In Fashion Today: An Interview With Juergen Teller (Metro, 17th Jan 2014)


Photographer Juergen Teller talks to Metro about his new London show Woo, photogaphing Kate Moss and his penchant for shocking snaps.

Kate Moss, Gloucestershire, 2010, No.12

Juergen Teller made his name with strikingly different images of the likes of Kate Moss (Picture: Juergen Teller)

Juergen Teller – the man who put Victoria Beckham in a shopping bag, crumpled Kate Moss into a wheelbarrow and perched Vivienne Westwood on a wheelie bin – seems twitchy. It might be because, he claims, this is the first interview he’s ever got through without a cigarette but he’s also tired and excited, preparing for his first major London solo show in a decade.

Teller made his name photographing musicians, having moved from Germany to London in 1986. Working with his then girlfriend, stylist Venetia Scott, he ripped up the glamorous, slick aesthetic of the late 1980s and ushered in a more authentic, grungey mode. Like his contemporary Corrine Day, he was one of the first to shoot Kate Moss, who, with her relatively short stature and uneven teeth, was considered an unconventional beauty. Teller became famous for his refusal to retouch or airbrush and many have tried to approximate his style – using a blasting flash, often against a bleached-out background.

‘I’m interested in extrovert characters, people who are doing something,’ he says of his preferred subjects. ‘But I used to only be able to photograph people I was interested in or attracted to, either psychologically or physically. That all changed when I did the Go Sees. [Teller’s 1999 book showcases the hundreds of aspiring models who pitched up hopefully at his studio in a single year.] I became open to photographing anyone and anything.’

Despite continuing to produce innovative campaigns for a select few long-term collaborators, most notably Mark Jacobs, Teller has also moved away from fashion and on to far more personal subject matter. The focal point of Woo, his new show at the ICA, is Irene im Wald, a series portraying his mother in the woods near his childhood home.

‘There’s no distinction as such,’ says Teller. ‘I don’t take private pictures. Quite frankly, if I didn’t enjoy the fashion industry, then I wouldn’t continue to do it. But it’s certainly changed. It’s becoming more global, more serious and it’s not so exciting any more. There’s less room for something unexpected. But maybe that’s just my age.’


Teller said he used to only be interested in photographing people he was interested in or attracted to (Picture: Getty)

Years ago, Teller, now 49, also started to insert himself into his photography, to a quite incredible degree. I have a momentarily unsettling flashback to the full-frontal vision of his rectum, proffered on top of a grand piano played by Charlotte Rampling within the fantastically debauched photo series Louis XV.

‘I was just curious to feel what it was like to be photographed by me,’ he explains. ‘I take Polaroids first and then I direct anybody who’s around. I know my cameras very well and so without even looking through it, I know how it’s going to see.’

With this assurance, Teller suddenly squints wildly at me from about 4ft across the table and exclaims: ‘I can’t even see you, my eyes!’ I suggest this might be problematic but he guffaws: ‘It’s all on autofocus, it’s fine.’

Actually, Teller is fervently loyal to old-school film, shooting with a Contax G2 35mm camera in each hand. However, he claims he’d be prepared to move to digital if the product was right: ‘I just haven’t found the right thing.’

He segues somewhat surreally into re-enacting a clip from HBO comedy series Eastbound & Down, an inspiration for the show’s name. Yet Teller is right that some of his work is extremely serious – and often painfully personal. Frozen Dead Dog, from 1991, is an intensely wretched black-and-white image taken in his alcoholic father’s home village after his father had committed suicide. He has also photographed himself standing naked, drinking and smoking on the man’s grave.

He’s usually considered to have been at the forefront of the early 1990s iconoclasts, publishing in The Face and i-D, yet Teller has always seen himself as self-determined and even isolated.

‘I feel on my own, I always have done, I’m an only child,’ he says. ‘We were sort of a group of people working at The Face but I always felt separate because they were all English. I felt like they had a cultural heritage I didn’t have.’

He insists he never shocks for the sake of it, or fetishises the ugly, rather presenting life in all its incarnations. ‘Everything I choose to photograph, I think is beautiful,’ he says, ‘whatever it is for the wider world.’

Woo runs at the ICA from Jan 23 until Mar 17.