“I always work with two cameras. It’s kind of like I’m hypnotizing the subject with the flashing. It’s a bombardment of action, flashes, and I think it helps them to ease into the process.” -Juergen Teller
Juergen Teller is a commercial and fine art photographer who works primarily in London. Of his move there from his native Germany he said, “When I came to London in 1986, I was amazed at how prudish everyone was.”
His style is raw and gritty. That style appears in his client work and his personal creations too. He is not interested in shooting fashion models against white backgrounds. “I try and photograph people as they are,” he says, “I do not want to hide anything. I want to bring across a personality, a humanity. It is not a case of model A or model B against a white background. I am interested in the person.”
Harsh light/unflattering angles
Teller’s emotional images are often parodies of fashion photographs. In spite of this take on it, he promotes the fashion industry while being critical of it at the same time. He does not retouch or airbrush his photographs of models revealing their authentic selves rather than the idealized expression of beauty in advertising and other commercial photographs. He uses less than wonderful camera angles that are often not very flattering. His harsh light reveals an authenticity not often seen in fashion. “I think my strength is to act instinctively, really quickly, on what I believe, what I see in this person,” Teller explains. “A proper portrait. I wouldn’t dream of doing something inappropriate for that person. I guess I make the person comfortable around me.”
Juergen Teller has made portraits of a wide range of celebrities that include photographers William Eggleston and Cindy Sherman, influencers and entertainers Kim Kardashian and Kanye West and models like Vivienne Westwood, Kristen McMenamy and Kate Moss.
Books are legacies
Teller has published a lot of books, over 50 of them at last count. His latest, “Donkey Man and Other Stories, Editorial Works Volume 1” is published by Rizzoli. He shot most of the book with an iPhone. Juergen Teller does not have an Instagram account.
He views his books as a tangible expression of his work rather than a digital one like posting on Instagram. “I came late to everything — computers, digital photography, mobile phones. So I’m not very technically advanced at all.”
While Teller does appear on Instagram it’s not his account. “There was quite a funny Instagram account which published my work, and everybody thought it was mine, and it really bothered me because it wasn’t right,” Teller says about it. One look at it compared to one of his books and the difference is stark.
Teller collects books by artists for his library. “If an artist or another photographer publishes a book, I read it, I study it, I look at it, and it carries on within my library,” he says. “It’s something wonderful to have, and it’s something I can show to my grandchildren. It’s something solid; that’s what I like about it.”
The pandemic kept Teller confined to his west London living area. He kept on shooting through it all. He photographed Coach’s SS21 look book using Zoom. He arranged actors in scenes using an iPad. Some of the resulting images are printed in “Donkey Man.” Teller is motivated most by photographing people and things that interest him.
Radical Photographer — video
Take a deep dive into Teller and his work in this interview…
Stories on inspirational photographers are in On Photography.