Overexposure: He Has Cavorted Naked with Charlotte Rampling and Covered Himself in Caviar for Marc Jacobs, but Juergen Teller Thinks "Fashion Is a Wank". He Talks to Rosie Millard about Changing Nappies, Body Fascism and What Went Wrong with Kate Moss
Millard, Rosie, New Statesman (1996)
Juergen Teller is a confident man. An artist with a stellar track record of still photography that encompasses high-end ad campaigns, editorials in all the glossies and exhibitions at Tate Modern and MoMA, he is now much more interested in taking photos of his family than shots of leggy, loaded beauties. Phillips, the auction house, recently invited him to shoot a forthcoming jewellery sale using a clutch of supermodels. No, said Teller. I'm bored with supermodels. But my mum likes jewellery. I'll shoot your diamonds hanging from her ears.
His reason for photographing his wife, the London contemporary art dealer Sadie Coles, and his two children, eight-year-old Lola and one-year-old Ed, is that he loves hanging out with them. "I have no idea who the top models are at the moment. It doesn't interest me. I like the luxurious, dressing-up aspect of fashion. But I wouldn't want to do it like Mario Testino [the famous photographer of Madonna and Princess Diana], day in, day out. There's nothing wrong with it; I'm just not interested in it. Currently, I am changing nappies, eating food and playing with my kids. And trying to work, and I can't work on something very far away from my life. So I used my family to model the jewellery. It made much more sense."
Although he has won the Citibank Photography Prize and created a celebrated series of pictures with the American artist Cindy Sherman, Teller appears remarkably unfussed about "getting on". He just likes clients who let him do what he wants--like Marc Jacobs, for whose own-name label he shoots campaigns. On a 2004 shoot, the only clothes he used from Jacobs's sizeable empire were a pink silk shirt, worn by the iconic beauty Charlotte Rampling, and a pair of grey satin boxers, worn by himself. The resulting series, featuring himself and Rampling in an ornate suite at the Crillon in Paris, gave new meaning to the words "stark bollock naked", because most of the time Teller was.
After you have finished noticing his genitalia waving in the air, you focus on other things, such as his appendectomy scar. He is thin in some shots, and fat in others. Teller loves this physical honesty. One picture shows Rampling's aristocratic face, close up and haughty, right beside Teller's wedding tackle. A caviar spoon is draped over his crotch. Dollops of caviar enmesh with pubic hair. "I was really pleased to be there with her and the caviar," says Teller, as if he is talking about a holiday snap in a Russian diner. "Then afterwards I thought, 'What is going on? This is all about excess and I am being too careful with this $1,000 caviar.' So I did this." We turn the page. There is Teller, eyes shut, caviar spilt all across his face. Yes, it's excessive.
I look at another shot. Teller kneels on a piano, his back to the camera, sticking his naked arse up at us. Rampling is there, too, looking as if she is trying very hard to ignore him. "A lot of people say I have a snapshot style," he says. Well, I was thinking about something else, but do carry on. "Every single picture is completely thought through. If it doesn't work I have to do it again. These photos, for example ... Well, I was the art director and set up each and every one. It looks casual--but that's the best thing about it."
Teller, now 41, came to Britain from Germany when he was in his early twenties. He tells an excruciating tale of how he and another German, sensitive about their homeland's recent past, would keep their voices low when speaking in their own language. One time, a British wag leaned over and stage-whispered, through hysterical giggles: "Don't mention the war!" Teller, whose knowledge of English then did not stretch to the finer points of Fawlty Towers, had no idea how to take this, other than at face value.
At the moment he is quite happy to take things at face value. …