The exhibition Enjoy your life! by German photographer Jürgen Teller (Erlagen, 1964) at Martin-Gropious-Bau in Berlin is approaching its end. Teller is one of the most notorious contemporary photographers. His works, many of which take the form of extensive series, are published in books, magazines and exhibitions. Enjoy your life! can be visited until the 3rd of July.
Born in a family of musical instrument makers. Teller studied photography in Munich and moved to London in 1986. There he began working on music, fashion and trend magazines until he achieved fame in 1991 when he accompanied the band Nirvana on the “Nevermind Tour” and published photos of the band’s timid leader, Kurt Cobain. Since then, his images oscillate between art and commercial photography. His favourite genre is portraiture.
Working in the fields of music, fashion and celebrities, as well as embracing everyday scenes and landscapes, he uses his intuition so that people, situations, media and clichés create images of great immediacy and simplicity. His compositions are very careful and conceptually prepared even though they might seem circumstantial at the first sight. His images often play with the idea of imperfect beauty in the foreground. He deliberately distances himself from the glamour of fashion and conventional portraits and implicit in many of his works is the breach of the spectator expectation.
In his works for renowned fashion designers, he places supermodels, pop stars and other celebrities in unexpected and disturbing contexts, an example of which is his series Kanye, Juergen & Kim, Château d’Ambleville (2015). Teller encourages his models to show their individuality to capture their private, intimate moments away from the public eye, thus separating their images from established visual codes and demystifying celebrities in front of their lens. On the other hand, his compositions transform inanimate objects into “stars”, conferring them with a metaphorical meaning.
Teller applies these same creative principles to his non-commercial work. The resulting images are disconcerting, unpredictable, intimate, transgressive, very direct and even aggressive, but they never compromise because they are flooded with empathy and sensitivity. A very important part of his artists work conforms his own life. Series like Irene in the Forest (2012) or Bilder und Texte (2011), a combination of photographs and texts written by the own Teller, are autobiographical. With direct, sincere, sometimes humorous and always touching images, this body of work, as a subjective documentation, is a testimony of his youth and origins. His mother, Irene and his family, play a primordial role in his career, providing the base for operating in other contexts and an interface to realize both commercial and non-commercial photography, maintain both simultaneously. In the series of images The Clinic (2015), he reveals much of himself with images of his private moments, his children, his wife or his mother.
The constant focus on the motif calls the curiosity of the viewer. He uses the set, the props of his camera, assistants as he would a film director and frequently acts as the protagonist of its own images, delegating the act of taking the picture to another person. ‘In the wider sense, everything is a kind of self-portrait. It’s just the way you see things and how certain things rouse your curiosity and get you all excited.’ Thus Teller integrates into his visual conceptualization a change of perspective in the way the spectator looks at the images and invites us to participate in his playful game, he makes us his allies.
His last name Teller –which means dishes in German– is perhaps the origin of the series Teller/Dishes (2016) where he seems to gather and concentrate all its themes of interest and compositions. The protagonists photographed with their plates and the plates acting as the photographer alter ego, create compositions that are as tender as exuberant, direct and honest, full of humour and again, strangely emotional.
To end, as a “narrator”, Teller reflects on photography as a mirror of society and examines its media impact. The great attraction of his photographs and his magnificent combinations of motifs lies in the frankness with which they speak to the viewer. Unadorned, insipid, sincere, humorous, ironic and occasionally transgressive, Teller’s works have an inescapable intensity that strikes us audaciously.
The show Enjoy your life! can be visited until July 3 at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin.
Text: María Muñoz –source: press release of the show.
Photographs: Paco Neumann