Photography unlimited

Juergen Teller is in demand because his disturbing, documentary- style images sell clothes like nothing else. But as a new exhibition reveals, his pictures are about much more than fashion.

When a famous fashion photographer exhibits his pictures in a gallery, it tells us we're meant to take them seriously. There are the thin girls in even thinner frocks, as you'd expect, plus a smattering of countryside shots and some snaps of someone's nearest and dearest - all seemingly thrown together with the casual exhaustion that results from jetting around the world from shoot to shoot.

But appearances are deceptive. Juergen Teller emphasises how much the photographic ensembles making up this exhibition have been planned, and how excited he was by the idea of "blending" his pictures together.

Does this mean we should read a thematic link between the pictures grouped together? "Since they're all my work, the different types of pictures don't matter," he says, rather easily. "Their juxtaposition interests me. I've got really bored with seeing my work again and again, and I wanted to do something different".

The voice, while completely charming, still carries a heavy German accent, but the tone of ennui is unpretentious: his work really is everywhere - in the crucial glossy magazines, on the album covers, the posters on the streets. Probably the single most influential fashion photographer of the past decade, Teller, only 33, now has the fashion world begging for his services. The reason is simple: his pictures sell product. Countless people have tried to clone his random style, but he is dismissive of his imitators: "They only seem to pick up on the snapshot aspect of my work, and they create superficial pictures as a result. It's a thought-out process and I take a long time to edit my pictures."

In general, his work conveys a cool, lazy chic of the crashed-out-but- fabulous-anyway kind, an attitude that brilliantly announces its refusal to be tempered, weighed and measured by the mundane world of mortgages, cellulite and the weekly shop. Fear doesn't make an appearance in his pictures: instead raw confidence - albeit slightly dazed - stares out from the flashbulb-bleached faces caught by his camera. Kristin McMenamy naked and smeared with lipstick, with a tampon string poking out from her pubic hair. Kristin as high-gloss glamour queen. Isabella Blow looking absurd. Kirsten Owen looking ridiculously beautiful at the kitchen table. A wary, scary Courtney Love squatting on the floor, mobile mouth refusing to stay steady. And then all those pictures of Kate Moss: Teller has just completed a short film with her as the star.

"It's about ownership of the image," he enthuses. "I'm the photographer and she's the model and we play out this thing. She's the ultimate model capitalised by Calvin Klein across the world."

Judging by the script he read aloud to me, her ads for that company, with their particular brand of weightless, nostalgic sophistry, will have been valuable training. Does the fame of famous people get in the way of a good picture? "It depends how famous they are and where they come from. Americans want to control the image, and so I'm just a product for them. I photographed Love again six weeks ago and the difference between that and my first pictures of her years ago was amazing. Back then she was moody and tragic. But she's changed: she's off the drugs and is now a major US celebrity. It's just not worth it now."

You can see his point. "Squeaky clean" is not a phrase you would associate with the man responsible, as some commentators have argued, for the promulgation of heroin chic in the fashion industry. "I liked the stories he did right away," says Terry Jones, editor of I-D magazine and one of Teller's early supporters. "He brought a contemporary documentary style into fashion. What's interesting about his work is that he's gone through the experience as a photographer in a similar way the subject has; he becomes the person who's being manipulated. OK, people have accused him of presenting women in a vulnerable way, but in fact I think they were presenting their vulnerability to him. However," Jones adds, "sometimes he has pushed this too far".

So, I ask Teller tactfully, have you ever been appalled by any of your work? There is a long silence, punctuated by him rubbing his long ragged hair. "Yes. I once did some pictures of this 15-year-old girl for a German magazine and I was blown away by it. She was so extremely exhibitionist that I felt out of control. It was so exploitative that I questioned my responsibility as a photographer. She'd had this horrendous upbringing and I wondered if I should really invite her to push herself even further into stupidity."

Teller goes on to explain that he is not interested in fashion itself, but rather in what somebody's wearing, in the attitude a woman has: "I'm bored with the perfectly formed nude body. It doesn't interest me sexually or professionally. But when women wear a skirt, or lipstick, or jeans and a sweater - their whole body language changes," he exclaims with evident relish. "I use clothes as a film director uses a location, to make a character work."

Central to his working process is Venetia Scott, the style director of many of his campaigns and the mother of his seven-month-old daughter, Lola. Scott is a shadowy figure who disdains the limelight. There are only a few images of her in the exhibition: crouched in temporary despair on a country lane; pregnant in a snapshot of the pair of them naked in a hotel bathroom. Other pictures of her reveal a face charged with immense determination, a passionate conviction that Project Teller can only move forward. It is a perfect match: his infallible directness with her conceptual flair.

Teller is more cautious when photographing men, however: in his recent campaign for Jigsaw Menswear the male models hardly show their faces, and even the moments of high narrative drama he chose to animate the collection are very obviously staged.

"You get bored with these male stereotype geezers and you think what is the `coolness' of a man - an actor, a musician? I deliberately chose the theme of stuntmen because their lives are about adventure and pushing your life to the limit. I am weirdly drawn to that. It's hard for me to explain" - his voice falters - "but my father killed himself and I think this still comes through certain pictures."

Is there a difference between his professional photography and the pictures he takes of people close to him? "They know me well and I find that really difficult. I particularly want to do some more pictures of my mother. It's f***ing difficult photographing one's mother. I don't have the authority with her that I have with a stranger, because she doesn't take me seriously. Venetia is more easy now, but when I started, she always corrected me - I shouldn't use this camera and I should use black and white and not colour. Then she got pregnant, and a strong sense of memory started being important to me. I wanted to record a lovely, intimate, peaceful moment. I never felt that before."

The ringing telephone shatters his reverie. Juergen Teller is off to photograph Donatella Versace tomorrow and there are things to finalise. "All that bleach-blond hair and gold furniture - it's just my kind of thing," he grins.

`Juergen Teller' is at the Photographers' Gallery, 5 and 8 Newport Street, London WC2, until 25 July.

Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sport LIVEFollow the latest news and scores from today's Premier League as Liverpool make a blistering start against Norwich
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLESir Cliff Richard has used a candid appearance on an Australian talk show to address long-running speculation about his sexuality

Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Apprentice IT Technician

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

    1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

    £153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

    1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

    Sales Associate Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit