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Juergen Teller's first solo show in Athens opens at the DESTE Foundation
Juergen Teller, Louis XV, No. 9 / Self Portrait with Charlotte Rampling, 2004. C-print. Photo© Juergen Teller.

ATHENS.- Under the ironic title MACHO, Teller, a photographer whose practice makes the debate about the boundaries between art and fashion obsolete, is showing for the first time in Greece a highly introspective body of work.

Teller has never been one to shy away from capturing in his peculiarly informal and often humorous pictures the plainness and beauty, averageness and extraordinariness, hardness and fragility of the human being. As a result, he is one of the few photographers who have elevated fashion photography to a new kind of artistic expression. His work, when it first appeared in magazines, was a revelation, expressing a new kind of authentic style, which has since been much imitated.

Teller is perhaps the first photographer to present his work in very different contexts without ever compromising his unique style, whether shooting for advertising campaigns, fashion editorials, billboards, magazines that found their way into the homes of a wide audience, or for exhibitions in art venues around the world. “I am just producing works and try to find channels where I can express myself,” Teller remarks: “It may be a magazine, poster, book, or billboard... whether it is art or photography, I really don’t care.”

At the core of the concept of machismo sits a pronounced – perhaps too pronounced – sense of male supremacy and pride. Teller’s choice of title for his Athens exhibition intimates a desire on his part to comment on and perhaps poke fun at the narcissistic male. Many of his pictures, including his famous self-portraits, are the result of a role-playing experiment where model and photographer swap places. Teller is seen to seamlessly slip from one role to the other, no drumroll in the background: he often photographs himself in different moments from his private life. “I rarely aim to show off my masculinity, or proclaim myself the ideal male. On the contrary, I am often to be seen in effeminate or ridiculous funny poses,” he confesses.

In his recent series, “Masculine,” included in the exhibition, pictures of classic historical examples of sculpture and painting idealizing masculinity are juxtaposed with self-portraits of the artist working out. The series offers a glimpse into how Teller himself relates to such a testosterone- packed, strength-intensive physical activity, not to mention how he, a 50something man, attempts to keep his less-than-perfect body fit.

Self-portraits are central to Teller’s work. They seem like incremental additions to an endless performance that spans his career: the photographer collapsing face down into a half-eaten platter of roast pig, or, more recently, posing in a restaurant with his crew, flaunting the imperfections of his half-naked form. And there’s more: frolicking about in an elf costume with his daughter in his family home in Germany; getting worked up watching a football match on TV, his son by his side, or standing naked by his father’s grave at night, smoking and drinking beer, one foot resting on a football.

At the same time, in a manner that is reminiscent of Diego Velázquez (and other old masters), whose painting, Las Meninas , depicts the painter at work, Teller creates a series of photographs in which the photographer is never far from the foreground. Shots for the Marc Jacobs campaign – of Sofia Copolla in a swimming pool looking across at Teller who includes his feet in the frame, or his famous self-portraits with Charlotte Rampling in which the two are seen canoodling in a hotel room – are indicative of this approach.

Teller, one of the iconic photographers of his generation, entered the London photography scene through his work on music album covers. He is the author of famous portraits of such music icons as Kurt Cobain, Bjorg, and Sinéad O'Connor, who was photographed by Teller for the cover of her single Nothing Compares 2 You . Numerous celebrities feature in his work for major fashion designers, while his photographs have been published in fashion magazines and shown in many museums around the world. He has published more than twenty monographs of his work.

In reality, Teller needs no introduction. His photographs have fuelled the fantasies of an entire generation. He is the photographer who managed with his amateur 35 mm camera, in hand and no digital manipulation whatsoever to prove that beauty truly is in the eye (and soul) of the beholder. The only difference being that the beholder here is no other than Teller himself: a beholder of life!

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