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What the Hell are These Juergen Teller Photos?

Fashion is an expression of personality whether one is clad in a Carhartt jacket or a Saint Laurent suit. Fashion can be utilitarian, but there is ...

Fashion is an expression of personality whether one is clad in a Carhartt jacket or a Saint Laurent suit. Fashion can be utilitarian, but there is an element of absurdity to “high fashion” and the photography that support it. Case in point: Juergen Teller.

German-born Teller made his name as an art and fashion photographer – and he’s taken some images with his “amateur aesthetique” that I really like. There’s the one of Kate Moss and the one of Marc Jacobs after he got all jacked.

And of course, his collaboration with Cindy Sherman that still makes me laugh.

The WSJ Magazine recently commissioned Teller to do a cover shoot with the rapper A$AP Rocky, a rags-to-riches rapper who is most recently known for being thrown into a Swedish prison for allegedly assaulting a 19-year old with a criminal record. I have no opinion on the legal matter, but let’s talk about those photos!

For something so literal, photography can look so different depending on the person behind the lens. And it would be impossible for any person to like every type of photography. So maybe this is more a reflection of my own tastes, but for the love of God, someone please describe to me what is good about these photos?

Twitter justifiably started roasting the images as soon as they were published:

People were in disbelief that these were real photos:

And photographers started responding with a “could have hired me @wsj”-style comments, and a set of their own photography. 

Some photographers responded with sincerity:

And others were made with great comic effect:

Due to less aggressive image compression, Teller’s images look better on the original WSJ piece, a well-written essay with a cliché title (yes, I know Rocky’s drug use is referenced in the article, but a lot of people do drugs). Teller’s style is intentionally “amateur” and in a sense anti-fashion, and he’s built a career off replicating the look.

But even amateurs try to level their horizon nowadays, and his insistence on tilting the camera between 1.5º – 3.5º in nearly every photo is visually fatiguing. Tilting the horizon can be used to create visual tension or direct the eye, but Teller’s photos try too hard to be sloppy like this portrait against a blank wall that is tilted 1.7º.

Photo by Juergen Teller for the WSJ

The beauty of real amateur photography like those found at Beijing Silvermine, is the unpretentiousness and unexpectedness of the moment. When a trained and successful professional like Teller does it, it can feel a bit too calculated and desperate.

Then there is the WSJ’s bizarre decision to publish a horizontal photo as a vertical. It serves no purpose in a series of already weird photos. If cameras didn’t have orientation sensors, then maybe you could make an argument that this is SOOC (straight out of camera), but this reeks of trying too hard to be cool.

And I don’t know what the hell this is. 

Photo by Juergen Teller for the WSJ

In a 2008 New York Times profile, fashion critic Cathy Horyn describes Teller as, “extremely funny and gregarious, at once sensitive…and capable of the gross joke.” But when the average person on Twitter cannot discern Teller’s work from a joke, either the joke sucks, or the “joke is the joke” meta-ness needs re-evaluation.

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