The Inventory: Juergen Teller

Juergen Teller, 49, is well known for his striking images, including celebrity portraits and fashion photography. He is a longtime collaborator of Marc Jacobs, Helmut Lang and Yves Saint Laurent. His work is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, among other public and private collections.

What was your childhood or earliest ambition?

I wanted to be a footballer.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

I went to state school in the German countryside, then started an apprenticeship as a bowmaker. I had to stop after one year as I became allergic to the wood dust and got asthma attacks. After that I moved to Munich to study photography.

Who was or still is your mentor?

It was really inspiring to be in west London in the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially in Mark Lebon’s Crunch Studios, where I met people like Ray Petri, Neneh Cherry, Judy Blame, Nick and Barry Kamen, Zoe Bedeaux and Venetia Scott.

How physically fit are you?

I like physical exercise. I cycle, run and play tennis and football with my son. But I do go on drinking benders, especially when I’m working a lot.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

It depends how you measure success. A bit of both is essential.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

No. But judging from my ability to help my children with their homework I would rather not do one.

How politically committed are you?

I was very, once – when living in Germany. Now I’m disillusioned with politicians.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

I cycle whenever possible around London. But I travel first class when I need to fly.

Do you have more than one home?

Yes, we have a house in London and we rent a tiny cottage in Suffolk.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

The cottage I rent in Suffolk.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Sean the osteopath and the Thai ladies on Porchester Road.

In what place are you happiest?

Walking in the woods in Bubenreuth, the sandy lanes in Suffolk, hiking in Hydra. Being on my own in the country makes me content and happy.

What ambitions do you still have?

I was a heavy smoker and I stopped – I want to live a little longer. I need to be there for my kids, give them some help and guidance – they are still young.

What drives you on?


What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

I managed to stop smoking at the beginning of the year. I never thought I would quit.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

Not being able to talk to my father. He killed himself when I was 24 and when he was around he was never really around.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?

“What language is he speaking?” I didn’t speak a word of English when I moved here in 1986. “How the hell did he do that?”

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

I would be lost without my family. Materialistic things don’t really matter to me – I would just carry on and start again.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

Yes, I do.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

I don’t really know.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?


‘Juergen Teller: Woo!’ runs at the ICA until March 17. Teller will be in conversation with curator Bice Curiger and ICA director Gregor Muir on March 5;

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