I don’t like taking a sly picture on the side. I like the direct approach. I want to be as honest to myself and the subject as possible. And I’m depending on their humanness to come through.
Juergen Teller is one of the world’s most sought-after contemporary photographers. His works, many of which take the form of extensive series, are published in books, magazines and exhibitions.
He chose to study photography at the Staatslehranstalt für Photographie in Munich instead and moved to London in 1986. There, he began to work for trendy music, zeitgeist and fashion magazines and came to fame in 1991, when he accompanied the band Nirvana on its Nevermind tour and published his sensitive pictures of the band’s shy frontman Kurt Cobain. Since then his pictures have straddled the interface of art and commercial photography. His stylistic device of choice is the portrait. Working in the areas of music, fashion and celebrities as well as everyday scenes and landscape, he draws on his intuitive feel for people, situations, milieus and clichés to create images of great immediacy and deceptive simplicity. His compositions often convey a sense of the incidental or even slapdash, but on closer inspection it becomes clear that they are very carefully composed and conceptualised.
Deliberately distancing himself from the relentless glamour of fashion and people photography, Juergen Teller forged his own distinctive path. In his shoots for well-known fashion designers, he placed supermodels, pop stars and other celebrities in unexpected and often disturbing contexts. His series Kanye, Juergen & Kim, Château d’Ambleville of 2015 is a case in point. Encouraging his sitters to show their individuality and capturing them in seemingly private, intimate moments, away from the glare of public attention, he detaches the images from established visual codes and demystifies the stars in front of his lens.
Teller applies the same creative principles to his non-commercial work. The resulting images – now more than ever – are baffling, unpredictable, clichédefying, intimate, seemingly transgressive and in-your-face, but never compromising, because they are informed by great empathy and sensitivity.
Juergen Teller demands a lot from his sitters. He expects them to embrace a raw and unvarnished authenticity. By the same token, his steady focus on the motif, candid and curious, open and unblinkered, calls for tolerance and curiosity on the part of the viewer. And he gives as good as he gets. He uses the set, the props his camera and, above all, the sitters as a film director might and frequently acts as the protagonist of his own images, delegating the operation of the shutter release to someone else.
The series Plates/Teller, begun in 2016, seems to bring together and concentrate all of Teller’s themes and compositions. The protagonists’ games with a plate – the German word for plate is Teller, and so the plate acts as a synonym and stand-in for the photographer – are captured in compositions that are as tender as they are exuberant, direct and honest, full of humour and strangely touching. Many of his complex narratives only unfold upon a closer look, even if they are presented on the proverbial platter. As ‘storyteller’, Teller reflects on photography as a mirror of society and examines its media impact.
The huge appeal of his photographs and of his magnificent combinations of motifs lies in the directness with which they speak to the viewer. Without frills, unsparing, candid, humorous, tongue in cheek and occasionally transgressive, Teller’s photographs have an inescapable intensity and strike us with bold immediacy.
The exhibition was previously shown at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn and the Galerie Rudolfinum in Prague.