Vogue Biographies: Juergen Teller
PUTTING clothing into contexts that are irreverent, entertaining and provoking, Juergen Teller first offered reality and substance to the status-driven world of fashion photography in the late Eighties.

Throughout his career he has been able to strike a rare balance between creativity and commercialism, blurring the boundaries of art and advertising to create world-class images for collaborators such as Marc Jacobs, Celine, Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood.

Coaxing his celebrity subjects out of their comfort zones, his signature blemished, raw and awkward set-ups make his work extremely provocative and he is globally recognised as one of the most influential photographers of his generation.

  • Juergen Teller was born in Erlangen, Germany in 1964.
  • In his teens he abandoned an apprenticeship making bridges for violins (the family trade) after he developed an allergy to the wood used. He turned to photography and enrolled at Munich’s Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Photographie in 1984.
  • After graduating in 1986, Juergen moved to London to escape national service and pursue his career. “I thought I’d have to give up photography at 22,” he told Index Magazine in 2000. “I just drove off to London. I didn’t speak any English. All I knew about fashion came from looking at what the different bands were wearing.”
  • Teller found work in the music industry shooting record covers. One of his first hits was a photograph of Sinéad O’Connor for the singleNothing Compares 2 You in 1990, while in 1991 he took a series of now-iconic photos of Kurt Cobain, when he was invited on tour with Nirvana.
  • For his first British Vogue cover in August 1994, Teller shot a then 20-year-old Kate Moss. Two months later, his work made the cover again, this time photographing Linda Evangelista for the October issue.
  • Teller’s gritty aesthetic began to develop in 1996, when he famously photographed a naked Kristen McMenamy with the word ‘Versace’ scrawled across her chest in red lipstick.
  • The Photographers’ Gallery in London opened the first major solo exhibition of Juergen’s work in 1998.
  • Teller directed a short film featuring Kate Moss called Can I Own Myself in 1998. He has worked on many other film projects in his career to date, including commercials for Calvin Klein’s Eternityfragrance.
  • Juergen Teller has worked on commercial campaigns for Marc Jacobs since 1998, offering some of the most celebrated and challenging concepts in advertising each season. Their work was later collated into the book Marc Jacobs Advertising 1998-2009, and publishers Steidl credited Juergen’s input as ‘instrumental’ in establishing the Marc Jacobs megabrand.
  • In 1999, Teller released a project called Go-Sees, a photographic log of every model that had visited his studio for a casting between May 1998 and 1999. The hundreds of portraits (all taken at the entrance to his studio) made for a striking artistic concept exploring identity.
  • In 2003, Teller was awarded the prestigious Citibank Prize for Photography.
  • For Marc Jacobs’ spring 2004 campaign, Teller photographed 65-year-old actress Charlotte Rampling at the Crillon Hotel in Paris. “I knew she wouldn’t be interested in just doing merchandising for a fashion house,” Teller told the Independent. “I had to come up with something that went beyond that.” At 40 years old and, by his own admission, “too fat”, he cast himself as Rampling’s lover, the extravagant Louis Quinze, but was horrified to discover that the only sample that fit him was a small pair of silver shorts. The resulting campaign included shots of Teller sucking Rampling’s toes, and the pair curled up in bed together.
  • On the success of the venture, Teller called Rampling again. “I said, “Charlotte, I’ve got another idea, I’m going to get rid of these shorts and just be naked.” The pair continued working for the next six months, producing the 28-image narrative of arrogance, lust and excess that became Louis XV, one of the photographer’s most celebrated series’ and the subject of a book and exhibition.
  • In August that year, Teller shot another provocative campaign, this time prompting Boris Becker to drag Claudia Schiffer across a floor by her legs, for the German label Strenesse.
  • Victoria Beckham starred in the Teller campaign for Marc Jacobs’ spring 2008 collection, with Teller and Jacobs famously telling her: “You’re a product”. The campaign led with an image of Beckham’s legs falling out of an oversized shopping bag. “I knew this wasn’t going to be Vogue,” she told the New York Times. “I knew I had to put myself in their hands, which could be quite scary.”
  • In summer 2009, Vivienne Westwood released her latest campaign, shot by Teller and featuring herself, cavorting with Pamela Anderson. “I’d never seen photos quite like them before,” Teller told AnOthermagazine. “With Vivienne and Pamela, these opposite poles of people, this weird mix of flash and no flash, everything ugly and beautiful at the same time.” The series, taken in the hype of Barack Obama’s political campaign, was later called Election Day and was released as a book documenting their reactions alongside the clothes.
  • Angela Missoni asked Teller to shoot three generations of the Missoni family for the label’s advertisements in February 2010. “We wanted the campaign to be a snapshot of an evening with the Missoni family,” creative director Angela Missoni told us at the time. “The product is real so I wanted to show it in a real context – and that is difficult to do with traditional fashion imagery. Juergen had only one assistant so there was no big crew – it was just us and him.”
  • In January 2011, the Missoni family extended their concept, asking Teller to shoot some of their fashionable friends at London’s Museum Of Everything. Leighton Meester, Joan Burstein, Jasmine Guinness and Jade Parfitt featured in the campaign for summer 2011.
  • In August 2011 Vivienne Westwood took Teller to Africa to photograph her charity work and the production of her Ethical Fashion Africa collection. “I came back completely energised and full of life,” Teller told us.
  • Teller’s work caused controversy in November 2011, when his advert for Marc Jacobs’ Oh Lola!fragrance was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority. 17-year-old actress Dakota Fanning was styled with a giant bottle of the perfume on her lap, which the A.S.A. had deemed ‘indecent’, however Coty insisted it had not received any complaints.
  • Teller’s monograph, Keys To The House, was released in June 2012. Featuring 100 images taken in and around his house in Suffolk, a chiffon-clad Lily Cole floated like Ophelia in a muddy lake, while Vivienne Westwood was draped over a car boot on a dirt road.

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