I don’t want to say I wasn’t excited to see Teller’s famously humorous portraits, but the ‘Woo!’ of this post’s headline isn’t mine, but the exhibition’s title. A shout without an explanation, it’s self-mocking and understated, yet tells a story and packs a punch, much like Teller’s photographs.
I’m going to immediately dismiss Teller’s more recent work, the series Irene Im Wald displayed outside the main room in tiny sepia stills, as if even the curator knew they weren’t that interesting. ‘Intimate’ as these family portraits taken in the woods may be, unless you, like Teller, love his Mum, you aren’t going to take much away from it.
Irene Im Wald also loses out by being mounted directly opposite Teller’s typically large portraits of Vivienne Westwood letting it all hang out;
the grand dame of fashion reclines nude on a chaise lounge, displaying her privates in insouciant poses that manage, in all their starkness, to convey both grace and vigor.
The rest of the portraits are, like Teller’s commercial fashion compositions, a visual – and intellectual – treat. The wildly sexy photo of actor Lars Endinger in mud and scant underwear, wearing an upside-down crown while glowering at the camera, steals from Hamlet the title of ultimate Anti-Prince, especially as you’d have to be blind to miss the homo-erotic charge of the captured moment- Teller certainly didn’t.
The laugh-out-loud picture of Victoria Beckham, a gloriously inverted take on the diminutive WAG, shows only her high-heel clad feet hanging over a massive shopping bag, and is titled Legs, Bags and Shoes. She may not smile much, but that girl has a sense of humour.
A Nineties photo of Bjork and son in an Icelandic sulphur lake is intoxicating. The singer’s pixie features and her son’s similar beauty are framed by white clouds of smoke and turquoise water, as delicate and otherworldly as the subjects themselves.
In contrast, Teller’s self portraits are crushingly self-mocking and wry; Unlike the models he photographs, he doesn’t strike a pose, but instead displays his fat and hairy stomach in Self-Portrait With I-Phone, or, in the delicious I Love My Wife, exposes his flaccid penis curled beside his wife’s pregnant belly.
Teller’s gift for subverting an image with witty words is most evident when he shows us a darling photo of his young daughter, seemingly as fresh and dewy as the bouquet of flowers by her side; until we see that the photo is titled Lola With Nits (2005), and realise that she is damp with head-lice treatment, not with dew.
This typically Teller twist captures the spirit and honesty that makes him one of the significant photographers, not just of fashion, but of our time. He shows his subjects in all their truth, and with it in all their beauty. I say Woo!
Woo is at the ICA until 17th March 2013
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