The man, the myth, the legend on fashion and its link to art…
I’ve written about the links between art and fashion here, how I see them and what the two mean to me, separately and as one. Both industries amaze and inspire me on a daily basis, they are essential to the everyday. They are an inescapable reality. When I got the chance to interview Juergen Teller, a photographer who has shot some of the biggest fashion campaigns of the century, on the issue, I did just that.
Your fashion photography is very unconventional from a commercial aspect due to it’s rawness, why do you choose to shoot campaigns that way? Do you think the public understand it?
I wouldn’t use the word raw. At the same time it is, or can be, sensitive, tender, direct and/or brutal. You cannot think of the public. You can only think of yourself, how you can solve this problem and helping to advertise this product or company. You have to be happy with the result and of course you have a responsibility towards your client. Even when working with large companies, I don’t work with a CEO or art director. I work directly with the creative person, like Marc Jacobs himself, or Phoebe Philo of Celine. So the communication is direct. They trust me and we work well together.
With regards to fashion photography, do you think the campaign images should primarily advertise the clothes, or the mood of the collection?
Fashion photography should, or must, show the fashion. Otherwise, what is the point? With a fashion advertising campaign it can vary, depending which house or which season it might be. You have mostly a double page to make an impact, for example, with Marc Jacobs I had to endorse only the shoes or the bags, and we chose to go for inspirational shots, to make an impact on the page. Also, controlling the layout, size of logo, border etc.
Photography is conventionally considered art, while fashion is less so. Do you think that featuring fashion in photography enhances its nature as art?
I think photography is considered photography. Fashion is practical. You wear it, it can be a spectacle, or theatrical, an idea to make you dream. I don’t spend much time thinking, is this art? Is this that or the other? I’d rather just concentrate on making good work.
When a subject is wearing clothes, what do you believe the difference is between: fashion photography and non-commercial photography?
Fashion photography needs to be functional. Non commercial photography is in the world already. It can be whatever you want it to be.
Do you prefer to shoot fashion photography or non-prescriptive photography; do they give you equal freedom as an artist?
Of course, I get extremely excited if I have an idea for a project, when it solely comes from my heart and brain and it belongs purely to me. With fashion photography, you have a responsibility towards the client, whether it’s a magazine or a fashion house, it can be fun and interesting to have restrictions and tackle “a problem”. How to solve this or the other. You can have tremendous freedom as long as you consider what is important to them. It can give you exciting resources you, on your own, would not have. Money to travel, access to certain locations, people you would never have contact with. Wonderful clothes to get inspired by. It’s very exciting.
You exhibited at the ICA last year, how do you decide how to curate and display an exhibition?
You prepare long and hard. You consider the venue and the place/country, start thinking. I always make an architectural model in my studio, scale down my work. About 80% is done before the artworks get delivered to the museum. Then, for example, for the ICA show I installed my work over 5 days. Whereas, altogether, I had been working and thinking about this show for about a year… What should be in the entry room etc.
You feature in some of your work, how much of art do you believe is about self-expression?
I guess it’s all self expression. With my self portraits, I photograph so many people, sometimes I got a bit bored with it. I thought, I’m always around, why not photograph myself? But that’s a longer conversation.
When working on fashion campaigns, how do you formulate ideas on where and how to shoot the photos?
It’s always new and different, but basically it’s always driven by the clothes, that’s what’s first. Then you think of who, and where. It has to make sense within the context of the collecion.
What is your favourite photo of your career?
Uh, I’ve got no idea. The one of my son smiling in the bath tub and one of Lola, my daughter, with a gun in our pond in Suffolk.
Your family also feature in some of your work, do you prefer to shoot and work with people you know or not?
Both. I do find pleasure working with my family. I mean, they are always around; physically and in my head. I’m particularly proud of my project, “Irene im Wald”. A portfolio of walks in the german woods with my mother, and combining text. Or, Ed in Japan. It’s very very hard to work with people who are close to you. It’s sometimes easier to work with people you don’t know; there is immediately respect, whereas with my Mum I had to struggle hard for her to take me seriously and convince her.
Do you believe that the clothing in a photo has a substantial effect on the outcome and mood of the photos?
Of course, absolutely. That’s one reason I choose to do my self portraits mostly naked. Not out of vanity, I just didn’t want to be dealing with a dress sense, as I am doing it for my bread and butter all the time. And I’m interested in how flesh looks, the whole thing is kind of pure.
Follow Camilla on twitter: @camillaackley