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Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.

Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.

Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.

Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.

Juergen Teller, 2000


Juergen Teller's photographs make me desire what's there. They also make me wonder what's just outside the picture; they make me wish I were there myself. His work is gentle, perceptive, and sexy. Juergen often captures the unguarded moments of the people he's photographing — no small feat, considering he generally works with top models and celebrities. Whether I'm looking at a picture of Björk and her son in an Icelandic hot spring, Kate Moss in a hotel bed on the day after her 25th birthday, Kurt Cobain tuning his guitar, or O.J. Simpson in a generic Florida hotel room, I always feel like I'm just about to learn a secret.
Juergen's photographs are everywhere: i-D, Purple, W, Dazed & Confused, all the Vogues. He's done major ad campaigns for Comme des Garçons, Marc Jacobs, Stüssy and Helmut Lang. There are the album covers for Elastica, Elton John, and Hole, and at last count, three books of his work were in stores, with another on the way.

I had assumed I'd interview Juergen in London, where he lives with stylist Venetia Scott and their daughter Lola. But he suggested that I come along to Cornwall, where he and Venetia have their second home, a tiny converted barn overlooking rolling green hills and a bit of the Atlantic. I got there just as he, Venetia, and a host of cousins were preparing to celebrate Lola's third birthday.


CORY: What is it about Kate Moss that makes her so special in front of the camera?
Her body language is extraordinary. Without my saying much, she opens up for the picture. She just does it. I give her a little bit of direction, and then she gives me more, and when I say, "Yeah, that's good like that," she comes up and she gives more. There's a delicate balance where a picture could either be extremely naff, or it could be really seductive or humorous and actually work.

CORY: And what happens when you're working together?
We don't have to have a deep discussion about what the pictures should be. She seems to completely understand me as a person — what I am and what I would like. If it's a fashion story I'll say, "These are the clothes." She'll look at them and know exactly what kind of character she has to slip into. She can transform herself from a little girl into some sophisticated asshole or some arrogant, sexy teenager …

CORY: And when she's not in front of the camera?
She has a complete physical presence. If she were here in this room it would be a party, but not a silly party. She brings so much into the room, even if she's just standing there. She is just so giving. She always has presents for her friends, she invites people in and cooks dinner.

CORY: People have called her your muse.
Yeah, they have. But it's not that I'm so attracted to her looks or anything. I never really thought about that. Especially when I first met her — she was only 15.

CORY: Last year Scalo published a book of your photographs, called Go Sees. A "go-see" is when an unknown model "goes" around to "see" a photographer in hopes of getting hired.
When you're a well-known fashion photographer, modeling agencies call constantly. They'll say, "This great girl is in town for three days. She's excellent, she's exciting. You've got to see her." And normally the agencies would assume, "He's this kind of photographer, so we'll send that type of girl." But I wanted to see the whole range. The agencies were calling me up more and more, and it started to get a bit annoying and weird. So I decided to really have a look at them. I opened up my studio and said, "Send anyone."

CORY: There must have been so many.
The girls would bring their portfolios and their model cards, but once they left I couldn't remember what they really looked like. So I began to put a photograph of each model on a wall of my studio, just as a memory device. I showed the wall to my friend Peter Miles, and we thought maybe this could be a project, to photograph them over a whole year and see what happened. And I became quite addicted to the whole thing. I was curious to see how many girls would come. I couldn't believe that there really were so many around!

CORY: From all over the world …
And I found them all attractive, they were all interesting. Everybody had a little story to tell. I'd give them a cup of coffee or tea and I'd look at their portfolios. At the end, they'd usually show me a picture of their boyfriend, or their cat, or their family, which was more interesting to look at. Like one girl grew up in the circus. Then I'd ask them if I could do a picture at the door. And they would run over and position themselves without my doing much. The process got more and more interesting — how long could I make engaging pictures in this little space? I thought I would get completely bored, but every person brought something with them.

CORY: Looking through the book, you start with this feeling of how fragile they are, and then gradually, page after page, you get a feeling of the inner dignity of these kids. It's a real psychological journey.
Some people just don't see it, but I think some of those pictures are exquisite portraits.

CORY: And working in fashion, it shows a kind of respect for what these young girls are trying to do.
Yes. And I wanted to put myself on the line too. After all, I feel half responsible for all that mess. The girls have huge expectations when they meet me. Most of them, unless they're supermodel-looking, wouldn't ever get to see Mario Testino or Peter Lindbergh, you know? They couldn't believe I would have a cup of tea and a talk with them.

CORY: And if a girl gets discovered …
It's crazy how some of these poor girls get used to that lifestyle. They get picked up in a limousine and flown away. They don't get much of an education. They don't do anything, and yet they are treated like crazy superstars. They're allowed to behave as stupidly as they like and nobody says, "Hey listen, behave a little bit."

CORY: Did you always want to be a photographer?
No, I started off making bows for violins. My dad's whole family, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, all did bridges for violins. My dad used to play five instruments. It's normally a three-year apprenticeship to be a bow maker. But I developed an allergy to the wood and I got really heavy asthma. So the doctor sent me for an air change, and I went off with my cousin Helmut, who was already a photographer. That's when I got into taking pictures. And because the social system in Germany is so good, and it wasn't my fault that I couldn't be a bow maker, they sent me to school for photography. I went to the Bayerische Staatslehranstalt in Munich.

CORY: So the German government helped you to become a fashion photographer.
In a way, yeah. They bought me all these cameras for school — a 35 mm, a medium-format and a large-format — because I couldn't afford them. But I sold everything apart from the 35 mm in order to move to London. That's how I lived there for months without having to get a silly job. It was in '86.

CORY: Why did you go to London?
My required army duty was getting closer — I was going to do civilian service. I would have had to work in an elderly home for a year and a half or something. I thought I'd have to give up photography at 22. So I just said to my mom, "I'm leaving." She was heartbroken. And then I just drove off to London. I came from a place where like 4000 people lived. I didn't speak any English. All I knew about fashion came from looking at what the different bands were wearing.

CORY: And when you got to London, you started earning money by taking portraits of musicians. Who were the first bands you photographed?
The Cocteau Twins. And Marrs, who did "Pump Up the Volume," which suddenly got to number one. I also did the photo for Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares to You," and that got some attention.

CORY: That single was really big.
Then I started to approach magazines like i-D and The Face — I was quite attracted to what they were doing. Eventually they both hired me to do some portraits and things like that. And then finally The Face asked me if I wanted to do a fashion story — that's how I more or less blindly got into fashion.

CORY: Were you the kind of photographer who shot a lot of film for each assignment?
No. I couldn't even use normal film because it was too expensive to process. I started shooting this 35 mm Polaroid film which came in 12 and 36 exposures. I could only afford the 12 exposures, so for each job I had 12 pictures. [laughs]

CORY: You must have been very, very careful.
Yeah, and now it's the opposite. I shoot a lot because I don't want to create this one decisive moment. Sometimes I even shoot with two cameras at once to avoid that frozen thing, that "Stay right there," and then, boom!

CORY: Do you find it nerve-wracking to pick the best picture?
It's really tough. I spend a lot of time editing in my studio. Sometimes it's heartbreaking.

CORY: And do you re-edit your old work?
The first time I re-edited was with Nirvana.

CORY: Those are such great pictures. Who asked you to do them?
It was for Details, in 1991. They said, "There's this band, they're going to be huge in America. They've got long hair, ripped jeans … They're called Nirvana. Do you want to go on tour with them in Germany?" The timing was really good — it was November in London, I had no money, nothing was happening. The tour would give me a free trip home to see my mom, which was great. I asked people at i-D and The Face if they had heard about the band, but nobody had. It was just before Nevermind came out.

CORY: What did you think of them so close to the beginning?
They were all right. I went with them on the tour bus and stayed in the same hotels. And there was this journalist along too. The first time I heard them play, it really was mind-blowing. But I was very shy at the time, and Kurt himself was quite introverted. And I felt so stupid being with that journalist — he just nagged them, he was always on top of them. The band had to do interviews with the local reporters in each city. The photographers would come in and say, "Do this, stand there …" I just stayed in a corner. By the end, I was thinking, "Fuck, I haven't done any pictures yet." [laughs] I just felt it wasn't the right thing to do with all these aggressive people around. But I was able to do them at the end.

CORY: And you re-edited those pictures after Kurt died?
Yeah, with the whole weight of history behind them.

CORY: I guess the big story in your life is your relationship with Venetia.
We've been together for ten years. We met at my agent's in Paris, and Venetia suggested we get a drink when we were both back in London. But I was too shy to call her up. I was petrified, because I really liked her. Then she called, and I was thinking, "Whoa, she called me up. Fucking hell!" And we began to see each other a lot. Then we thought that maybe we should work together. But when I showed her my work, she just totally smashed it. She told me it was complete rubbish. Then I showed her the work I used to do in school in Germany and she said, "Look, this is much better." I had gotten a bit carried away when I first got to London.

CORY: She actually turned you around?
She was really, really influential. Venetia has always been quite strong about what she wants, and she has a good sense of the wider picture. She doesn't only look at the clothes, she looks at the person and what the story should be.

CORY: And now there's your daughter, Lola. How do you two handle all the traveling now that you have a small child?
We've been able to plan it quite well. If I have to go off, Venetia takes over. If we work together, Lola comes with us. Then when Venetia works with Marc Jacobs in New York, I go along too. We always get the same room at The Mercer — so Lola can say, "Ah, we're back home." We do have a nanny, but I don't take on much work when Venetia's working for Marc.

CORY: What a great arrangement.
One time we didn't bring a nanny. Every day I'd take Lola to Washington Square Park and we'd go for walks through Soho. I'd meet all these New York friends who'd ask what I was doing while I was there. Then they'd tell me all these amazing things they were doing. And I got a bit paranoid. But I felt kind of great too — that I was able to lock into my kid and just do that. When we're just one-to-one it's excellent. We get really close.

CORY: I loved your photographs of Sofia Coppola for Marc Jacobs' handbag campaign this past summer.
She's an old friend of Marc's. I ran into her at The Mercer when she was staying there too, and we went to Central Park together. I didn't have my camera with me, and she asked if we could go back in a couple days and take some pictures. Meanwhile Marc was saying, "Why don't we do the ads with Sofia?" It all came together, and we just had fun.

CORY: Those ads are so enigmatic. And now you've done the photographs for Marc Jacobs' new shoe ads.
They're great. Kate Moss is literally fucking an electric guitar. It goes quite well with the shoes. She's lying on the floor, and she's just going mad with the thing.

CORY: Okay. Now whose idea was that?
It was my idea to photograph Kate, but we were supposed to do it in London. And Kate was completely unreliable. She called late in the afternoon from Ireland and said, "I just woke up." She was at Ronnie Wood's place.
CORY: Of the Rolling Stones?
Yes. She said she'd been stranded there for two weeks — she was going out with Ronnie Wood's son at the time. So I said, "Why don't I come to Ireland?" As long as you're kind of open with her …

CORY: But wait. Was it Ron Wood's guitar?
Yeah. In his recording studio, where the Rolling Stones actually recorded their albums.

CORY: Tell me about the new Miss World photographs you've done.
The Goethe Institute in Venezuela asked me to be part of an exhibition about beauty perceptions. Then they ended up asking, "By the way, could you photograph Miss Venezuela at the Miss World competition in London?"

CORY: Goethe Institute and Miss World — interesting connection.
I had to ask the Miss World organization, and that became more difficult than photographing Margaret Thatcher, probably. I just couldn't get ahold of Miss Venezuela because there were so many paparazzi from the tabloid papers around. Finally my agent explained who I was, and suddenly the red carpet rolled out and I had all 88 Miss World contestants in front of me. And I was just flustered. I couldn't believe it — they looked just like each other. Their smiles were all the same. And when I had to change my film, their faces didn't move.

CORY: That's creepy.
In South America, they go to special schools for this. They learn table manners and how to make small talk in different languages, so it's not "just about their looks." Then they have plastic surgery done to conform exactly to the look that's supposed to win.

CORY: Hardcore.
Yeah. And some of them had their national costumes on, like the Austrian had a bit of a dirndl number, and the Japanese wore a kimono-type thing … Eventually, I plan to do a book of the photos, which I'll call Tracht. That means "national costume" in German.

CORY: I usually associate your work much more with spontaneity.
I try to photograph people the way I really see them. I try to let them be the way they are. I think maybe I have the ability to go into a person quite subtly … It just comes naturally.

CORY: For me, your photographs are always intimate, that's the thing about your work.
Well, it usually doesn't matter whether I spend a month with somebody or five minutes. I sense a certain aura from a person and I automatically change my psychology a little bit so they open up.

CORY: And what do you do with all of your prints? Do you ever sell them?
I'm holding back. I've only tried it a little bit. A long time ago I had a show in Tokyo, which included a picture of Sinéad O'Connor. Several people wanted to buy it and I thought, "Why should they have a picture of what I did with Sinéad?" It didn't feel right.

CORY: That's refreshing.
I feel comfortable making my living with commercial assignments. It's an agreement which I find quite honest. I help them to sell their product, or their record. And if they like my work, and I like their music or whatever, it's nice to do it. And if I get some decent, honest money for it, that's all right too.


© index magazinegelatin1
Juergen Teller by Leeta Harding, 2000
© index magazinetobias
Venetia, Juergen Teller and Lola by Leeta Harding, 2000

© index magazinetobias
Lola and Juergen Teller by Leeta Harding, 2000


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Site Design: Teddy Blanks. All photos by index photographers: Leeta Harding, Richard Kern, David Ortega, Ryan McGinley, Terry Richardson, and Juergen Teller