The difficulties of photographing Bavarian forests

Juergen Teller took to the London stage for the 2016 edition of Vogue Festival. Speaking to a sold-out audience, the Erlangen born photographer revealed much about his work, friendships – and the one subject that has so far eluded his viewfinder.

“I just want to do something that hasn’t been done before”, Juergen Teller, dressed in grey jeans, matching T-shirt and florescent Adidas trainers, said on stage at London’s Royal Geographical Society. Since 1913, this research-focused club has called a listed 19th century property bordering Kensington Gardens home. As one of the annual festival’s venues, maps, globes and rare artefacts made way this weekend for some of fashion’s leading names. This year’s line up included designers and Vogue staffers alike, from Vetements CEO Guram Gvasalia to Grace Coddigton and Alessandro Michele. And so it was that on Saturday Teller was joined on stage by British Vogue Editor in Chief Alexandra Schulman OBE and Gegor Muir. The ICA curator and Teller first met in the 1990s, most likely in Notting Hill or “wherever it was possible to live on the doll”.

»I just want to do something that hasn’t been done before«

The trio sat grouped against a moving backdrop of some of the photographer’s most memorable works. This included Teller’s first cover for the British magazine. Capturing Linda Evangelista in a red leather biker jacket zipped tight, the picture was taken during the high-octane reign of the supermodel and appeared on newsstands in October 1994. It marked a key moment in Teller’s international career.

Juergen Teller's campaign for Helmut Lang Spring Summer 2004
Juergen Teller’s campaign for Helmut Lang Spring Summer 2004

“My cultural upbringing is almost non existent”, the 1964 born photographer revealed. “I come from the countryside”. A teenage Teller would regularly journey to the nearest town to visit record stores. There, he discovered a world beyond his pastoral upbringing, portrayed in kaleidoscopic colours on record sleeves. An early favourite were the albums produced by ECM Records. Their stark visual design, often featuring an atmospheric photograph framed with a white boarder, was originally dreamed up by Creative Director Manfred Eicher. The layout was to prove inspirational throughout Teller’s life, most notably in his work for fashion designer Marc Jacobs. “The most important thing is the edit”, Teller explained his philosophy.

Lowell Tautchin by Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs
Lowell Tautchin by Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs

»Maybe I try too hard«

Despite his early fascination with the visual, Teller went on to build violins. When the Brazilian wood used in the instrument affected his health, he embarked on a trip to Tuscany on the advise of a doctor. “I think it’s essential to be curious, to want to see” Teller explained, and it was during this camping trip with his cousin that he made sense of what he saw, as filtered through a camera’s view finder. Once back in Germany, Teller enrolled at the “very conservative” Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Photographie in Munich in 1984. Teller’s Vogue Festival appearance included many such biographical vignettes, and shed light on the lensman’s practices at work.

Juergen Teller "Louis XV Series of 28 works 2004"
Louis XV No.1, 2004

“If I leave you on your own, I always get the best results” designer Marc Jacobs once told Teller. The duo collaborated on dozens of memorable fashion campaigns, blurring the line between advertising and clandestine snapshots of friends and conspirators. To this day, Teller’s portraits capture intimate moments, presenting well-known faces off guard. Teller revealed this elusive quality to stem from his interaction with sitters. “I like to spend some time with them. It’s a longer period of engagement”. The one subject that has so far proved difficult to immortalise on film is the Bavarian forest scene unfolding outside Teller’s holiday home. “Maybe I try too hard” he confessed on Saturday, more than six hundred miles north of Bavaria.