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Sticking Pins In Beautiful Things: Juergen Teller In Berlin
John Quin , April 29th, 2017 11:01

Photographer Juergen Teller's show in Berlin gives us Charlotte Rampling with a fox and Kim Kardashian looking gloriously daft

Juergen Teller, Self portrait, London 2015 © Juergen Teller

I’ve had a soft spot for Juergen Teller’s photography ever since I saw his cover shot for Mark Springer’s 1998 album Eye. Springer, the ex-Rip Rig and Panic pianist, is caught in monochrome with both arms raised and his hands out, fingers splayed as if about to crash them down fortissimo on an unseen upright. He stares out at us intently and it is his irises that instantly grab attention. Teller has made sure they are highlighted and tints each a thin-rimmed circle of green, an Irish countryside field of grass green, which jumps out from that otherwise imposingly moody portrait.

In the first of many moves that impel comparison with that other great German photographer, Wolfgang Tillmans, we begin here in Berlin with some tables showing pictures and text under glass. This is a diary of sorts with many images from 2016, quite a few of which featuring Teller’s mother. Here she is hunkering at a table in the Paris Bar, Berlin, below one of her son’s shots of a thickly bespectacled and pale- faced Yves Saint Laurent. Another has her looking chic in a neat black suit leaning up against a tree trunk and gabbing with Wim Wenders, one of whose trainers has a worrying loose lace. Wenders looks abstracted, maybe he’s thinking about Palermo Shooting, his movie that features a central character whose occupation and concerns are not a million miles away from Teller’s.

Elsewhere we encounter, in a photo Teller took from 2002, that old Nazi snapper Leni Reifenstahl underneath images she took of some impressive Nuba warriors from Africa. She looks as frightful as only an eroticized centenarian might and glares out at us – unapologetic of what Susan Sontag called her ‘fascist aesthetics’. And then nearby we find another of Teller’s gastronomic images, a ludicrous spread of sausage meat taken at Lena and Georg Herold’s wedding in Weimar in 2014. Teller is something of a connoisseur of stomach churning food and its imagery. His work is bulimic with culinary creations that, in their lurid tones, incite acute nausea.

Many of Teller’s images feature the well-known, and in the next room there is a (what is the collective noun for the famous, a shrewdness?) gang of them, as with Catherine Deneuve having a ciggie under a cherry umbrella, this time not in Cherbourg but what looks like a field of yellow rapeseed. There’s a 68–year–old Vivienne Westwood in the nude with flame red hair looking (itsth a mythtery!) not unlike the young Toyah Wilcox. Moving into another room we see some huge Giclee and C-type prints that catch Teller’s glee in capturing the grotesque. There’s an overburdened wild boar, a mother sucking five of her young taken in Calcutta and next to that is the model Saskia de Brauw on all fours in a Parisian park, another nude study this time en plein air, with what appears to be a rainbow coming out of her bum.

Juergen Teller, Emanuele Mascioni, Plates/Teller No.5, 2016 © Juergen Teller

Teller is his own best critic and, worried about what the local villagers might think of his naked self-portraits (one with a football and a bottle of beer at his Dad’s grave, another with his legs akimbo above a grand piano, Charlotte Rampling at the keys – both not seen here) he comes up with an alter ego – one Dieter, a version of Teller had he never left his home town, the star of a recent short video called Dieter, Erlangen (2017). Here Teller as Dieter wears a typically German schlepper get-up – grubby brown leather jacket, beanie hat, blue jeans with turn ups, Birkenstock sandals – and carries a cheap plastic bag from Aldi or Lidl or some such. We watch Dieter walk through the upcoming Teller exhibition and hear him mutter in a heavy Franconian accent as he encounters the works. Everything is scheiße apart from his prurient interest in naked women. And in another, more recent, self-portrait we see Teller slumped in an armchair with much text suggesting ideas for retouching. And so amusingly we read felt-tip inscriptions such as ‘not good expression!’, ‘skin more healthy brown healthy sumer (sic) skin’, ‘more hair’, ‘retouch stomach’…

In the next rooms we get some of Teller’s Heimat imagery of the forest – hard not to imagine Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas project as a soundtrack – and a sequence from his encounter with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian taken in the grounds of the Château d’Ambleville in France. There’s something very Readers’ Wives about these gloriously daft pictures – West and Kardashian come across as terribly tacky, brassy despite all the glory and finance bestowed upon them. Kardashian wears a nude bodysuit and if John Cooper Clarke were here you might have heard him impersonate her – ‘I’m freezing Juergen – haven’t ya finished yet?’

Juergen Teller, Charlotte Rampling, a Fox, and a Plate No.15, Latimer Road, London 2016 © Juergen Teller

Lastly there are some cryptic images of Rampling (Teller’s muse it would appear) posing with a tame fox and a then there is a shot of Boris Mikhailov, Teller’s ‘favourite photographer’ slumped on a couch watching TV. Teller shares Mikhailov’s fearlessness in making us look again at ugliness. The title of the show in Berlin here is called Enjoy Your Life! and, being a great storyteller, he can’t avoid warning us that we must do this with urgency because, as the cliché has it, life goes by all too quickly. This he captures in an image of an elderly man’s hand, a family member it would appear from the hospital name tag with its date of birth and barcode. The hand has white bandages and two plastic ports for intravenous injections on the dorsal surface, one copper blue, the other baby pink. Enjoy your life, indeed.

My mind is going back to that Mark Springer shot and I’m reminded of a line his old band mate Gareth Sager once wrote in a great song called ‘Honeypot Swarm’ as it applies to Teller – I’m sticking pins in beautiful things. The photographer as collector then, unafraid of showing his multicoloured butterflies aside some hideously hairy moths. The song goes on – if you want to fly then earn your wings. Teller has got his; he’s now high in the sky.

Juergen Teller, Enjoy Your Life, is at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, until 3 July