Q+A: Juergen Teller Brings the Louvre to Berlin

Installation view at 032c. Photo by Boris Kralj


With a camera in both hands, Juergen Teller has descended upon Berlin with a show at the Johann König gallery featuring images of Raquel Zimmerman and Charlotte Rampling at the Louvre. Previously on view at Lehmann Maupin in New York, this traveling show is matched by a unique show at biannual journal 032c’s exhibition space. For the latter he’s presenting new works in a glass vitrine, featuring his son, Vivienne Westwood and William Eggleston going through the sexual motions.

STEPHEN RIOLO: You occupy two very auratic roles—that of the male fashion photographer, and the artist. How do you as master of the situation fit into your photographs, particularly in your book of self-portraits, Louis XV (2005), featuring Charlotte Rampling?

JUERGEN TELLER: From the beginning it was clear that we were doing a project that was going to end up as an exhibition or a book. The whole shoot took half a year but some people look at the series and tell me, “Oh my god you must have had one crazy weekend!” It was one very carefully planned. I also wanted to change my physical appearance during the shoot. So if you look closely, at the beginning I’m relatively skinny and by the end of the book I’ve put on seven kilos. I wanted to look flamboyant, rich and fat. I wanted to have tons of caviar, huge amounts of caviar in this huge hotel room. And I thought, easy I’m just going to put on this weight now and it will be easy to take it off… but it wasn’t!

RIOLO: A lot of your work has to deal with women in different stages of sexuality, kind of like a life cycle. Charlotte Rampling, for instance, could you generalize about how you relate to women in your work?

TELLER: I was definitely closest to my mother. My father and one of my grandfathers died very early and female figures have been an influential part of my life. It’s also the mystery of the opposite sex.

RIOLO:  Your publications Election Day or Zimmerman addresses forms of social prohibition. Using the snapshot format and loose composition, you casually discuss many taboo topics surrounding the body and freedom.

TELLER: In Germany the body is treated rather differently than in the UK or US. I grew up with a swimming pool in our garden and a sauna in our basement. I’m very much used to nudity, which was just how it was growing up. When I came to London in 1986 I was amazed at how prudish everyone was.

RIOLO: Pertinent to the Rampling series and more generally, but why is the appearance of spontaneity important to you?

TELLER I have the ability to listen and look and I let my subjects be. I let them get as comfortable as they want to and I don’t impose. There isn’t a rule on setting these things up. Sometimes its very spontaneous and intuitive and some times its through a lot of talking with the subject and planning.

RIOLO: So it’s both a technological and conceptual development?

TELLER: Well, it’s realistic. For example, I did a Marc Jacobs advertising campaign with Raquel Zimmermann and we imagined, end of November in Venice, very romantic, very foggy, roaming through these alleyways and this, that and the other. We got there and it was quite warm for this time of year—77 degrees and bright blue skies.  So I changed the whole concept for the ad. We went to one of those small islands in the laguna of Venice, where there was a private house with a huge garden full of pomegranates. Some were bright red and others a sort of moldy brown, all broken open against this intense blue sky. In the end you don’t get anything from Venice, but the shoot was exceptional.

RIOLO: You rather famously shoot simultaneously with two film cameras, affecting the same kind of spontaneity as digital, but with film. What kind of balance does that triangulation strike?

TELLER: I use a Contex camera with a flash on top. I use color negative film. I always work with two cameras. Its 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. For other photographers it might take so long to set up the shot that the subject is already feeling tired and strained. My subjects don’t ever need to feel that this picture right now is the most important thing, because I’m taking pictures quite quickly and easily so they easy up with that. It also helps me to think, and to hide behind the camera. Like an animal who is hungry, but carefully trying to catch the subject.

RIOLO: At 032c, your installation includes a narrative of 16 middle format prints arranged in vignettes. Have you watched these contrasting relationships develop in your selection of models and choice of prints?

TELLER: At first I photographed sections of the virtine and I thought that I would show the pictures under the glass. I thought that might be a bit too clever-clever, vitrine in a vitrine, so I made completely new works. This one is called “Men and Women.” It’s three nude photographs of Vivienne Westwood, quite a few photographs of William Eggleston and my son Ed. Vivienne is in the middle and represents womanhood Eggleston as an old man and Ed as a young boy represent manhood.