HOMAGE TO JÜRGEN TELLER

It’s more of a friendship between Juergen and me. It started when he photographed me for some Russian magazine that was never published. The publisher was imprisoned for tax evasion or something. Pretty crazy story. That was some 10 years ago. Juergen had come into my gallery on Dessauer Straße and took a picture of me and at some point he said: why don’t you take your top off? So, there I was, topless. The way Juergen photographs is very physical. It’s a highly concentrated matter, a bit like sex. Because he so weirdly penetrates you. It really is like sex. He doesn’t say much, and he sweats a lot, at least that’s how I remember it. It begins, and then there’s not a lot of talk. Actually all he ever says is “This is good” or the like. And then it’s over. It doesn’t take long, but it’s also not shooting from the hip. Even though it often looks like it. It’s rather a mixture of a kind of ‘from-the-hip’ and a completely exhausting shoot. There are other photographers who get on your nerves with their ideas.But anyone who lets themselves be photographed is somehow exhibiting themselves. That’s what Juergen plays with. Somehow he captured my vanity but then again counteracted it, because I am looking into the camera full of confidence with my belly hanging out over my belt. It’s everything but an attractive photo of me. The funny thing is that he was photographing Lars Eidinger on the same day. And we all went out together that night. Juergen and I were kicked out of Felix, this mediocre disco, because we were partying so hard. Then we did a König Souvenir party for documenta, and Lars was the DJ. There were t-shirts with Juergen’s photos of that day in Berlin with Lars or myself on them. Lars was wearing the one with himself, of course!

Juergen had this series in the ZEITmagazin, where he would tell a personal story about each photo. He exhibited them in Vienna. That’s why I went there. Afterwards I was supposed to meet up with him in some disco. And on the way there, walking through the Stephansplatz, I met my wife. It was a funny situation: I had walked bang into her and asked her and her friend if they would like to come with us. I didn’t know them from Adam, but it was Art Week in Vienna and Lena had made a big impression on me. That’s the story of how I got to know my wife through Juergen. We always say that if we ever celebrate our wedding, then he will be the one to take the pictures. Juergen manages to make everyone equal. It doesn’t matter if they are stars or not. And that the stars are just people. When I showed Juergen in my gallery in Berlin his photograph of Kate Moss lying in a wheelbarrow sold very well. But I don’t think that it’s the best picture because it looks somewhat contrived. It’s very aesthetic, and actually his things are always good if they are not so aesthetic. When Juergen shows that people are strong but also fragile. Nobody really looks good with him, at least not good in terms of actual fashion photography. That’s what makes him so special: that he was the first to break with all these aesthetic ideas and the
‘how-to-look’ picture.
His series Paradis with Charlotte Rampling and Raquel Zimmermann at the Louvre is a masterpiece. It has something of a Freudian childhood dream about being in the museum alone at night with these two superwomen, both naked.

I find that what’s interesting about Juergen is that he is so no-frills. And that’s the beauty of it. I am thinking of the 1996 photo of Kristen McMenamy with “Versace” written on her chest with lipstick. The photo totally contradicted the prevailing image of beauty. But she looks so comfortable with herself in this picture. It was a total break with the etiquette of fashion photography. I look at it from the perspective of being a guardian of art: Juergen brought art into fashion photography. His photos are often quite brown. And that became such a success! It’s been copied everywhere. And that’s what brings it back around to being German. Wood paneling and beer, the cosy fairytale parlor, the forest, Bavarian Munich, sausage, deer antler trophies and stuff like that: that’s what comes to mind. That’s maybe Juergen’s charm, the authentic and sweet-ugly. I also think of the times when I was a kid and I thought it was great to go to other kids’ homes, where there was ugly wallpaper, tablecloths, seating arrangements and wall-to-wall carpeting. At our house, we had a Franz West sofa, art on the walls and
herringbone parquet. The other kind gives off a kind of warmth.Actually, Juergen is the ideal cosmopolitan because he sees himself as an EU emigrant, an international who’s done with that pompous German bullshit. I have him to thank for the EUnify Hoodie. I mean this blue hoodie with the circle of stars representing Europe, where a star is missing [signifying Brexit] and which we released for König Souvenir. Juergen had photographed Virgil Abloh for the cover of System magazine. And because he is wearing that hoodie it became a worldwide mega-hit.

If you look at Juergen’s early Nirvana photos, they’re also really good, but he became only really direct and open with Kristen McMenamy. In the process, he has also come to an openness of the portrayed, who dare to show themselves just as they are. What makes Juergen’s portraits so sexy is that real sex is so much more unpleasant. You sweat, you make every effort, and there is sand in the bed, it smells, you have complexes….sex is much more animalistic than it is portrayed in photography. Juergen goes a step further: he takes a picture like you’ve arrived at home. The dress is no longer fitting just right or the belly is indeed hanging over your belt.That’s why he’s so successful in the fashion industry, he scratches at the shell to show us what it’s all about: wanting to be wanted. One is how you want it, and the other pushes that point: how you know what it is. With Juergen, nudity means honesty, showing how one is. Really good sex is also about honesty; bad sex is about the image of how you think it should be. If you accept yourself and your stigmas, then you can overcome them. And that’s why Juergen’s work is so exciting.Maybe there is a parallel between Juergen and me. I came to be a gallerist out of necessity. I really wanted to work with artists, and the only thing that allowed me to do that directly was the gallery. Juergen also came indirectly to photography, through re-training, because when he was working in a workshop for string instruments, as his father had done, he developed an allergy against the wood dust. I did the gallery for the same reason. My father wasn’t a gallerist, but a curator. In the end, we are obviously seeking out the recognition of our fathers. And then Juergen developed this allergy, which was probably not completely un-psychosomatic, and so he came to photography. He says that when he looked through the camera for the first time, he realized that that was his thing.

Also, the photos he took at the childrens’ hospice are about being human. These photos of disabled children are so strong because the human in Juergen’s work is so important. You would think that that’s so normal. But when people know that they are being photographed, they immediately change their attitude. Juergen takes a hell of a lot of pictures, and he picks out the moments where a human is a human. He builds trust and even prefers the moments that are said to be unfavorable. And you go along with it, because that’s the way he is. Today it’s becoming more and more rare that one shows how one really is. I think that the true relevance of his work has yet to be seen. His photo of Yves Saint Laurent gets better with every passing year that Saint Laurent is no longer alive. He only had one minute and took 20 seconds to take this picture.It is important that you follow your intuition. Sometimes you are wrong, and it’s not always the right advisor, but basically it’s simply about honesty. My dad always advised me not to take any big risks. And it’s also not wrong to stay on the safe side. But I explicitly decided against staying on the safe side and succeeded nonetheless. One would have to ask Juergen how he came to his thing at all, how he came to trust it. Juergen was definitely important to me, and I’m glad we know each other.

© Text Johann König
© Jürgen Teller