This week's featured portrait photographer is fashionista favourite, Juergen Teller. The German lensman is one of the few artists who remains analogue—armed with his Contax G2—which suits his unorthodox "in-your-face" shooting style. Read more to see some of his most popular work, from commercial projects to couture clients to commissioned portraits.
First thing I should tell you about Juergen Teller is that he still shoots film.
In the age of digital everything, Teller’s weapon of choice is a Contax G2 35mm Rangefinder outfitted with an onboard flash, which gives his photos that signature overexposed effect that goes well with his subject’s often dazed or stark expressions. He alternates two G2’s while working so one’s flash reloads as he continues to shoot with the other.
Teller has photographed some of the most influential players in pop culture: from Kurt Cobain to Björk, Yves Saint Laurent to Vivienne Westwood, Sofia Coppola to Arnold Schwarzenegger, and my personal favourite, Kate Moss.
Fans of his work who also shoot film have been trying to figure out the secret to his trademark “eternally-sunny-even-indoors” golden look. Some speculate that he uses films like Kodak Portra 400NC or a yellow-golden gelatin on the flash, but one thing’s for sure: he refuses to post-processes them digitally and leave them as they are.
They’re brilliant in their rawness and realness and I believe this is what makes Teller’s images so, well, telling. He captures his subjects in their natural habitat; in their homes or hotels, caves or closets, even wheelbarrows or water.
“I am just there with them. Talk to them, engage with them, work with them, eat and drink with them, have a good time with them. Being involved with them and them with me,” Teller says. What he gets are very personal and intimate images which make a viewer feel like he was at the scene.
Aside from bright flash and gold tones, another thing you’ll see a lot of in his photos is skin. Some have called his work obscene and low-brow but the (se)X-factor of his imagery have definitely and undeniably propelled his photos to stratospheric popularity.
Besides portraits and profiles, he also shoots fashion campaigns and editorials. Some of his major clients include hip fashion houses like Marc Jacobs (whose campaigns he’s been shooting since 1998), Celiné and Moschino.
Photography wasn’t what Teller imagined he’d be doing professionally. His family has been making violin bows and bridges for years and thought that was what he would end up doing.
“I developed an allergy to the wood and I got really heavy asthma. So the doctor sent me for an air change, and I went off with my cousin Helmut [Lang], who was already a photographer. That’s when I got into taking pictures. And because the social system in Germany is so good, and it wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t be a bow maker, they sent me to school for photography.”
Teller went to the Bayerische Staatslehranstalt in Munich where he learned how to use 35mm, medium-format and a large-format cameras. He later sold his equipment to be able move to London in 1986 where he started his career as a photographer.
The rest is golden, sexy, overexposed history.
Select artwork by Juergen Teller is currently in exhibition at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery at 201 Chrystie St. New York until March 17, 2012. You can also watch a documentary about the artist’s 20 year career here.