“Give me the keys to what’s in my head”

Few photographers are entitled to an exhibition organized by the Réunion des musées nationaux-Grand Palais during their lifetime. Until January 9, 2024, Juergen Teller presents thirty-five years of career at the ephemeral Grand Palais with the complicity of the German Thomas Weski, writer and exhibition curator. At almost 60 years old, however, he does not intend to draw up a retrospective of his work, but to make known what has moved him since his beginnings. Record covers, fashion photos, portraits of celebrities, naked or not, self-portraits, compositions, series linked to his life…: the photography obeys each time the same raw and often facetious style. For the scenography, Juergen Teller called on the British agency 6a Architects, which designed his studio in London where he lives. THE Arts Journal met him in Paris with Dovile Drizyte, his wife.

The title, “I need to live” (I need to live), which you chose for the exhibition, expresses the vitality of your photographs well. Where do you get this appetite for living?

The exhibition begins with four large format photographs. The first one was taken by my father when I was a baby. It looks like a photo I could have taken. The second is a reproduction of a newspaper article relating to my father’s suicide. The third depicts my mother with her head in the jaws of a crocodile looking at the camera, and the fourth is a naked self-portrait in front of my father’s grave, a soccer ball on her foot, a beer in her hand and a cigarette in her hand. the other. When a member of your family commits suicide, it leaves a deep mark. I chose to be positive. Hence this desire, this need to live. I am very curious about life and I want to continue working, living, for my children and for Dovile.

In the exhibition catalogue, Thomas Weski compares your photos to the radical autofictional writing of the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgård. Why this taste for autofiction?

What could be more interesting than autofiction? This exhibition is a great opportunity to give the keys to what is in my head. My father’s suicide had a heavy impact on my life. This self-portrait of me naked on his grave, I made it a few years after his death, out of a desire to do it. I had a difficult relationship with my father while I was always very close to my mother, who was very good at sport. My father was the complete opposite: he drank, smoked a lot, sang in a choir and played five instruments. He never spoke to me. When he saw me and my mother watching a football match on TV, he found it stupid. As a child, a teenager, and after his suicide, I hated him. Things changed slowly after that. I discovered that he had been an enthusiastic amateur photographer. I feel like there’s something of him in me. This photograph on his grave was a way of feeling closer to him.

This exhibition is basically a great album of your loved ones…

People like Karl Ove Knausgård, Steve McQueen [artiste et réalisateur britannique]Björk…, the links that I can maintain with them are important to me as was Kurt Cobain.

Juergen Teller, Vivienne Westwood No. 1, London2009.

© Juergen Teller

Self-portraits, celebrity portraits – or not –, intimate compositions or stories… Should a good photo express life before being aesthetic?

If you want to take a good photo, there has to be content. And there must be a reason why you’re doing it. Then there is the aesthetic. To be a photographer, you have to feel, feel the person you are photographing.

The exhibition does not make a distinction between commissioned work and personal work. Is this a way for you to move away from the fashion and celebrity photographer with whom you are identified?

Yes. It’s very easy to label me as such and very frustrating.

What is your relationship to memory?

It is very important. I’m not going to hang around taking photos or photographing everything or photographing all the time. Everything I think about, what I have experienced or what I am experiencing, I recreate it with photography

What also embodies your joint work carried out in recent years with your wife Dovile Drizyte which addresses different moments of your life like the series “The Myth”a playful interpretation of your desire to have a child, currently presented at the Suzanne Tarasiève gallery…

Quite. “The Myth” was carried out in a large hotel near Lake Como where we were staying with Dovile. We wanted a child. When I saw our room, its environment, its decor, I had the idea for this series about this desire and what it generates in legends. The owner made the 94 rooms of the hotel available to us in which we reinterpreted this myth of fertility in a playful way, with Dovile. In a series of photographs, she is seen with her legs raised as recommended after sex.

The exhibition presents many portraits of celebrities: Kate Moss, Charlotte Rampling, Agnès Varda, Iggy Pop, Cindy Sherman, Vivienne Westwood…, but no politicians. For what ?

I never had the opportunity to do it, except for Lech Walesa [ancien président de la République de Pologne]. But I would like. I really wanted to photograph Angela Merkel. It was a close call. Last February, I had the opportunity to photograph Emmanuel Macron, but we were with Dovile in Japan.

Was it for a magazine?

No, for them.

Who would you like to photograph?

Pope. He intrigues me, I think he’s an interesting person.

You are exhibiting a portrait of the gallery owner Suzanne Tarasiève, who died on December 27, 2022. What did you like about her?

His spirit, his energy, his enthusiasm. The heart was filled with love. She was totally engaged, involved. She gave a lot of strength to her artists. It gave you the power to believe in what you were doing.

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