Photograph by Grey Hutton.

Juergen Teller on the World Cup and Working with Kanye West

For the premiere episode of the GARAGE Podcast, we sat down with renowned photographer Juergen Teller.

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Jun 7 2018, 4:26am

Photograph by Grey Hutton.

It's well documented that Juergen Teller is an avid football fan. As the World Cup is taking place in Russia this summer, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art has commissioned him to curate a show of all things football. He sat down with GARAGE Founder Dasha Zhukova to discuss his love of the game, and that one time Kanye West asked him to photograph Kim Kardashian.

So, now the whole show is structured around the German national team?

Juergen Teller: More or less.

It goes for the highs and the lows of them losing to Brazil in 2002, winning against Argentina in 2014, coming to Moscow as reigning champions this year. In a way, this show is about fandom, the obsession with football, and especially your obsession with football.

Yeah. You know, it might sound strange, but one can't take it too serious either. It gets me in sort of a complete bizarre release of the life you're living— from working hard in whatever you're doing and the heaviness of life. And there, you can be submerged into a complete idiocy of watching 22 people running after a ball, putting it in a net.

I've heard the story of when the manager, Pep Guardiola, winked at you in a hotel while you were traveling with the Bayern Munich team in China, which resulted in your self-professed man crush. These photos cover six days of never quite getting your moment with Pep, who you think is one of the best managers of all time. Is that right? Could you talk a bit about that experience?

Well, I was able to photograph every single person who was on that trip to China from Munich. And it was always delayed when I was able to photograph Pep. And then he was busy and this and that and the other, and it got dragged out. But at first, I stumbled at him at the airport with all the other people. He had an incredible, excellent, fantastic, mesmerizing aura around him, and the way he was talking to his players.

So I was kind of there when he was doing all these things. And it was like a magician working, or like a scientist explaining something to these players. And that's something I've never seen. Because he was a very good footballer himself, his physical shape fitness is completely extraordinary. Right? And he's very slim and has incredible sharp eyes, or, aware eyes. And I was completely mesmerized about that guy. And then I just thought what if this bloody appointment doesn't happen. I just started photographing him from afar.

They had a couple of hours off. Muller, and a couple of others, and Pep Guardiola. And I went with them golfing. So I was sitting right behind him. And here is this bald head and then I'm there. And I just started photographing his bald head, because I haven't had a sort of a one-to-one, "Yes, now you can take my picture," which I'm of course completely not used to; these footballers don't give a shit who I am. It's like, I don't know, Beyonce ... [she is] honored to be photographed by me, and then there's a real appointment at 11:00 in New York at this location. We're gonna photograph it and they're all excited. Footballers don't need that. They don't need to be photographed. They have their stadiums and then they have their stupid advertising things to do, and blah blah blah blah. They don't need a photograph from me.

Yeah. But you're a fan.

How many fans are out there?

So you never got a one-on-one with Pep?

No. No. No. And that really bothered me. But then I kind of thought this is actually the way it is. And it became like a cover, an 80-page portfolio. And sometimes, he's in the football stadium and he's miniature. You can hardly see him. Or actually, you can just sort of imagine that was him. And then I have him closer and this and that and the other. And it was actually a beautiful kind of portfolio. And then he was suddenly in front of him in this lift. I was just melting away, and it was better than a woman winking at me. He just winked at me and it was like oh God.

Have you had any contact with him since?

Yes. So I wrote the story. And I'm thinking, well, I'm not gay, right? So I think ... Well, my man crush and why I fall in love with certain men in a photograph. Whether it's William Eggleston, or David Hockney, whoever these people are who mean something to me. We all have a kind of a relationship and we work together and I admire them or adore them or I respect them. So that's what I felt with Pep. I wrote this story down and I'm thinking, "Oh my God, what the hell am I doing? If this guy reads it, he might think I'm like a big stalker, like a nutter."

Anyway, my 50th birthday arrives. And as a birthday gift, I get a Bayern Munich shirt with the number 50 on it because it's my 50th birthday, from Pep Guardiola, "Happy Birthday" to my man crush. And I thought, "Oh my God. He's got a sense of humor." And it was fantastic.

But you haven't seen him in person?

No. No.

That's funny. Well, you briefly mentioned Beyonce, which made me think of the series that you did with Kanye [West] and Kim Kardashian. Could you talk a little bit about how that came about, and if you learned anything about Kanye that you did not anticipate in advance?

You know, I don't really understand this American—

Obsession with reality TV?

Yes. And also music and everything. I couldn't tell you a Kanye West song. I have no idea. But he kept on calling. And he was just so determined that I photograph him. And I'm thinking, I have to be quite honest, I don't know. I don't really ... I don't feel a need, I couldn't quite understand it. And then he meets me at Phoebe Philo's Celine show and everything. It was just like, "Well how the hell do you get in touch with you? How does Phoebe get you photographing the Celine show?" I was like, "Easy, you just ask. But Phoebe is an old friend of mine. I know her for like 15, 20 years." [And he says] "Oh, this is how it works." Anyway, he kept on sort of calling and it was for the cover of the New York Times magazine or something like that. And I thought, well, maybe there is something in it. If somebody is so determined about something, I said, "Okay, I'll do it." Because it was in London and I thought fuck it, it's easy, I don't have to fly anywhere. And again, I actually really liked him and I really enjoyed him. And he is sort of a very, I don't know, you can't say schizophrenic, but very ... he's so full of himself on one level, and so shy. It was mesmerizing. On top of it, I found him very entertaining. And this worked out well, this New York Times thing. And a couple of weeks later, we were in Paris. And then, it was like photographing Kim Kardashian. And stupid me, I just thought I'd just go to the hotel room, photograph her for an hour, and the whole thing is that's it.

And naively, that wasn't the case. Suddenly, racks of clothes arrived. And he says, "Well, we don't have a place. And we don't wanna do it in a hotel." And he suddenly asked me to find a location. There was no magazine involved or anything. And I thought, "Well actually, she would be really good to photograph outside." But then there were all these paparazzi on motorbikes and everything. I said, "Well, how the hell?" So I ended up renting a chateau in the middle of France myself. And I'm thinking, "Am I fucking nuts? I'm paying for this whole crap." But it was so bizarre, I thought I'm gonna get something out of this. And he organized truckloads of clothes. And I didn't realize how complicated it is, the hair and makeup. It was a whole huge production.

Was he styling it? What was his role?

Yes, yes of course. Of course.

He was creative directing you or how did this operation go?

Well no, he was just styling her.

Right.

And then I had this chateau that we drove to, and he drove there in this Porsche Panamara matte, not metallic— matte, black. The paparazzi motorcycles followed them but thankfully there was a gate. When I got there I wondered, Oh my God. Is this just the garden? Looking around at the countryside though, I thought: This is much better. She had her large backside out in the high heels. And I thought,Well, this is so strange. We might as well walk up that sand hill.

And she did. She was very, very sweet. It was great. And at one point, he was saying, "Kim, there's three A-listers here. It's you," meaning her, "him and me" and at that point I thought, "What's he selling?" And then I thought, "I'm gonna be in the pictures too." Obviously, with all these people, there's this sort of incredible vanity that kicks in. And I just wanted to run against it. We were there in March and it was absolutely freezing, I just started to work the landscape. I just walked into the river and went marching, and went on and on and on. And I combined the whole thing.

And in the end, he was not sure that the images were right for a magazine to run?

No. It's got to be more complicated than that. Then I gave it to System, and then it became a supplement, and then System showed it to them. And that's when the shit hit the fan.

Why?

Well it's ridiculous but ...

He thought that wasn't the image that they should be projecting?

He thought it was odd. I don't care whether it's odd or not. For me, it doesn't really matter. But he thought that wasn't right for her. So that couldn't be published. It was a huge problem. It went into a garage and it didn't come out, but fortunately, or unfortunately, there are some subscriber copies.

So it didn't come out on newsstands. And then the exact people who he didnt want to see this thing, theyre the ones who got it, meaning the fashion houses and all the designers. There was a long desperate conversation, and I believe what happened was that the people whod seen it congratulated him, on how brilliant this thing was. So suddenly, he changed his mind, and he said, This is just genius.