Wooing Raw Beauty

Art and fashion photographer Juergen Teller’s exhibition Woo opened to the public at London’s ICA last night.

The German photographer who moved to London in 1986, sits comfortably between the art and fashion worlds, a spot that is reserved for a mere few. His iconic photography captures celebrities from the fashion, film and music scenes since the early 90s. There is a fifteen year old Kate Moss, a naked Lily Cole and a hunched over Kurt Cobain playing his guitar in Berlin, for example. Juergen Teller has been shooting advertising campaigns for Marc Jacobs, Vivienne Westwood and most recently Céline. For Marc Jacobs, he snapped Victoria Beckham in a huge branded shopping bag with nothing but her spray tanned legs and Marc Jacobs heels poking out on either side.

Teller is not a fan of over-stylised and retouched images that have become so dominant in advertising and fashion. His photos are an antithesis to the slick look promoted in high gloss fashion magazines, made possible by digital photography. His images are over-exposed, which has a positive impact on his subjects’ complexion, and are often a bit on the wonky side, giving them a spontaneous, snapshot quality.

Juergen Teller does not want to conceal. He captures a raw beauty. There is an element of trust between his subjects and him that is apparent in his pictures. It was interesting to observe the press audience looking at the triptych of larger than life shots of Dame Vivienne Westwood confidently posing in full nudity at the private view on Tuesday night. Chuckles, blushes, one dares not to stare, yet cannot look away.

The artist photographed her a few years back, when she was 68 years old and spoke about this experience in an interview with New York magazine. ‘It was lovely,’ said Teller. ‘In her house, on a Sunday evening. I’ve worked with her a long time, and I’m always amazed at how wonderful her skin is … I was just curious about how she would look naked. If you think of naked pictures of old people, they’re all wrinkled – and they are not! So I like it a lot. And then when she said, “Okay, let’s do it”, and she was sitting there I was thinking, “Oh my f****** hell, man!” I didn’t quite expect it. So that was great!’

A more intimate look than any of the nude images (often also of the artist himself), was a collection of photographs presented along with text called Irene im Wald, featuring images of his mother Irene in the forest near his home town in Bavaria. The texts are anecdotes from his life. We learn about a near death experience in London during the 80s, his admiration for a breast-baring Nastassja Kinski on iconic German TV crime series Tatort in 1977 and an endearing and difficult relationship with his mother and father respectively. All of these hint at what constitutes Juergen Teller, the artist.

The exhibition will be running until 17th March 2013. Admission is free.

This text was written for the Self Service blog.

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