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Nr 37 of the series ‘Irene im Wald’, 2012

Juergen Teller: Irene im Wald

The photographer on the importance of family and going back to his roots

In the 90s, when the world of fashion photography was all about bleak slickness, Juergen Teller and his then partner Venetia Scott shook things up with a new kind of aesthetic. Like his contemporaries Craig McDean, Wolfgang Tillmans and Marc Lebon, Teller has an idiosyncratic eye that leans more towards portraying a hedonistic reality rather than a glossy veneer. Since widening his scope away from working with just publications (like vogue, i-D and W Magazine) and ad campaigns for the likes of Celine and Marc Jacobs, Teller has focused his lens on more telling images.

Family is there - the old one, the new one - whether you want it or not. For better and for worse

For his latest exhibition at The Journal Gallery in Brooklyn, he has looked to his childhood in Germany for reference. 'Irene im Wald' portrays Teller’s own mother, Irene, wandering through the woods near his home in Nuremberg. The pictures have an intimate innateness brought about through his relationship to his mother, but the subtle play between Teller and Irene is never explicitly realised in the images and so contributes to the personality of the photographs.

Dazed Digital: Can you describe the 'Irene im Wald' series?
Juergen Teller: In a way it's a love letter to my mother and to the forest I grew up very close near by. There are pictures of the forest, of my mother in the forest, accompanied with heavy heartfelt text written by myself running through the show. 

DD: Family has played a heady role in your work over the years - why do you think this is? And, how you disengage with your context and treat them as models?
Juergen Teller: Family is there - the old one, the new one - whether you want it or not. For better and for worse. I go, wherever there is my interest, where my heart and feeling take me. Family is a major part of my life. I never really think of anyone as models, even the models.

DD: Your work toys with conveying ideas and context without explicitly showing it, how did using the woods from near your hometown impact on the images you've created?
Juergen Teller: I started a series called 'The Keys to the House' which involves the landscape pictures around the place in Suffolk where we rent a house. I always loved the woods near my house near where I grew up, but never had the courage. The Suffolk work gave me confidence and I started walking the forest with my Mum and that then catapulted the written text which accompanies the works.

DD: What do you want people to take away from the Irene im Wald series?
Juergen Teller:
An experience which is warmly felt. But before this question, I've never asked myself such a question.

DD: It was common for you to be referred to as a fashion photographer - but this is a limiting description - what do you think of this and how would you describe yourself now?
Juergen Teller:
I am someone who takes pleasure in exploring the full scale of the medium photography. I am a photographer.

DD: Over the years nudity has also had a place in your photographs - what impact do you think nudity and the figurative form has had on your photography?
Juergen Teller: I am interested in many things, the physicality of the human body is just one part of it as same as landscapes, portraits, or anything I am drawn towards it now.

Juergen Teller: Irene im Wald, The Journal Gallery  168 North 1st Street, Brooklyn  NY 11211

Image courtesy of the Artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York