Juergen Teller: Go-Sees, Bubenreuth Kids and a Fairytale About a King…Alison Jacques Gallery, London
“This exhibition explores the development of Teller’s work over the last two decades and its ability to change the perception of stereotypical ideals of beauty and aesthetics within the present-time."
Juergen Teller is best known for his unconventional approach to fashion photography, his starkly lit, untouched images have become synonymous with big brands including Céline and Vivienne Westwood. But these ad campaigns weren’t the stars at the German photographer’s recent solo show at the Alison Jacques Gallery. Instead, it was both a trip into the archives and an education for newcomers, with three bodies of work highlighting Teller’s enduring, honest approach that is more relevant than ever in a post-Weinstein world.
It was refreshing to see Teller’s work outside of the magazine and in the gallery space. The artist-model relationship currently under close scrutiny within the creative industries resonated in the show’s first room filled with the 1998 ‘Go-Sees.’ 462 photographs document models attending castings at Teller’s West London studio; adolescent female faces lead the visitor round. A fitting introduction to Teller’s aesthetic, girls are awkwardly confronted by the lens, some grip onto their modelling portfolios. From a TV set in the corner Teller’s voice comes out, broken up by the chimes of female voices. A video camera tracks the models as they wander in and out, speaking about their experiences, good and bad, whilst others sit to answer questions, often whilst smoking a cigarette before rushing off to their next casting. Intimate and somewhat uncomfortable, Teller must be aware of what this work may mean now in such ‘woke’ times. Maybe that’s the point.
One body of Teller’s work flows into the next, allowing a gauge of his enduring approach. The artist-model gaze is playfully subverted by the ‘Bubenreuth Kids’ series in the second room. A collaboration with students at Bubenreuth primary school in Teller’s home town, the young children responded to some of Teller’s fashion images in various ways, including imitating Victoria Beckham in an infamous Marc Jacobs campaign. It’s clear Teller’s work doesn’t take itself too seriously.
I would have missed what resulted in being, for me, the best room of the show, had the receptionist not ushered me upstairs. That’s the danger of the painfully quiet white cube style gallery space- the fear of exploring and being told off. That being said, Teller’s work is perfectly suited to it. The final, new body of work, A Fairytale About a King… is a visual narrative about “…a man born in London, a boy who became a king”, this ‘boy’ being British Vogue’s new Editor-in-Chief, Edward Enniful. Images were pinned up on the walls like a preliminary editorial layout with an accompanying article written for Arena Homme Plus magazine by Teller. His direct, unapologetic approach is reflected just as easily in prose as with his camera, talking in the article about his obsession with Enniful’s ‘big, black lips’ printed in high definition on the opposite wall. The voice that emerges in this room is one that talks frankly of race, gender and nationality. In a self-portrait, Teller wears a blue T-shirt that says ‘I am an EU Immigrant’, having been an avid Remain campaigner in the UK referendum. It was a room that felt exciting, opinionated and a celebration of Enniful, British Vogue’s first male, black editor who is bringing new energy and relevance to the publication, showing the power of fashion when it comes to politics. Both men know what they want to say, so they just say it.
For Teller it’s about the people and the places, nothing takes itself too seriously. These confrontations between photographer and sitter provides an honest document and a critique of fashion, both vital at a time when sexual misconduct by people in positions of power in various workplaces including the fashion industry is a hot topic.
Juergen Teller: Go-Sees, Bubenreuth Kids and a Fairytale About a King…
November 24th 2017- February 3rd 2018
Alison Jacques Gallery, London
All work by Juergen Teller © Juergen Teller.