Throwback: When Juergen Met Kimye

If a year ago someone had told me I would be mentioning Kim Kardashian on my blog, I would have laughed so hard in their face that my stomach would hurt. But here I am, writing about something even worse – the curse that is Kimye.

Firstly, I am embarrassed at and disappointed in myself. Why did I, after all, decide to go see an exhibition about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West in the first place? Curiosity got the better of me and I succumbed to society’s obsession with celebrities. I wanted to see this with my own eyes – how could Kim & Kanye have become objets d’art? I was aware that back in early 2015 acclaimed photographer Juergen Teller had done a country-themed photoshoot with the ‘power’ couple – but for it to be artistic enough to be hanging in a gallery? I couldn’t quite understand this.

So off I went to see Juergen’s work of Kim & Kanye at Phillips Gallery. And can I just say, what a beautiful gallery. An enormous space with a ridiculously high ceiling and pristine white walls, it was a perfectly stylised exhibition. It was only when I got there that I realised there was other work of his at the exhibition and not just of those two. Had I known this, I totally would have hidden under that fact and told myself that I was going to see his other work, not Kim & Kanye. A big fat lie.

There was a part of me that felt that maybe I would finally understand the fascination with these two people. Maybe I would get it, maybe it would all click. Maybe I would find some beautiful form of honesty and beauty in these pictures that would make me see them in a whole new light. Maybe, just maybe…

So, let’s start from the beginning. Are you all familiar with Juergen Teller? Born in 1964 in Germany, Wikipedia describes Teller as a fine art and fashion photographer. I have absolutely no idea what that means, as aren’t all fashion photographers artists in their own rights? Anyway, Teller rose to fame in the nineties thanks to his very distinctive work for mags like The Face, i-D and Vogue. I know him best from his ad campaigns for Marc Jacobs – my favourite in particular being his images of Winona Ryder. His style is simple and raw, which, in all honesty, is a rarity in the fashion industry. I’m more of a glitz and glam, Mario Testino/Ellen Von Unwerth kind of gal, but respect Mr. Teller for having stuck to such a signature style.

One section of the exhibition which I found quite interesting was his fascination with the Spanish football coach and former player Pep Guardiola, who he followed around for a short period of time. The pictures, which definitely feel more journalistic or like documenting than art, weren’t exactly fascinating as such – but Teller’s admiration for this attractive man definitely shines through. I liked how he called him his ‘man crush’ and this ‘shrine’ could very well be described as portraits of an obsession – as a slightly artistic person myself, I can very much relate to becoming obsessed with a certain subject (be that a person or anything else).

Another section of the exhibition was called ‘The Clinic’ – at the fear of sounding ignorant, I just didn’t get it. There was some very strange and interesting imagery (some of it, I think, ‘found’ and not taken directly by him) but even though I’m aware of Teller’s work being at times very autobiographical, feeling like I was looking at someone’s vintage family album just wasn’t enough.

I felt pretty dumb when I was looking at this, thinking “Wow, that’s actually a really nice picture”, only to realise after a good minute or two that it was in fact a picture of a picture, probably not taken by Teller himself.

I can say it all had a nostalgic, melancholy and perhaps unintentionally heart-warming feel, but… it just wasn’t enough.

The exhibition was very busy – maybe it’s because it was the last day, or maybe everyone else was just as curious as I was to see the Kimye ‘phenomenon’ on a gallery’s wall.

Apparently, these pictures were taken for System magazine and Kanye did all the styling. I would never have imagined that there would be a huge production team behind all of this, but alas, this is Kimye we’re talking about. So I guess this reflects positively on Teller, for really making me believe that it was just the three of them prancing around in the fields next to Château d’Ambleville. 

For some reason, I really like the picture of Kim’s head resting in the car – it’s peaceful and beautiful (and it doesn’t matter if she wasn’t actually asleep).

I won’t turn this post into a hate post, as there’s already too much online hatred. All I’ll say is that these pictures didn’t do much for me. Not being a huge fan of the couple being photographed probably doesn’t help, but it’s not so much the subject matter that makes these pictures uninteresting – it’s that there’s no soul. I truly believe that photographers have the power to capture something about the subjects they photograph – it’s oh so difficult, but possible. And yes, I believe that can happen in the context of fashion too. Did it happen on this occasion? Personally, I don’t see it. But hey, maybe all three of them had an absolute blast when doing this photoshoot (and Kim did say this was one of her favourite photoshoots to date).

So, where my eyes opened? Did see I this couple in a whole new light, and ‘get’ something that had been missing within me all along? The answer is no. I still feel about them the same way I did before stepping into the exhibition. Perhaps I’m all style and no substance, or simply part of the joke – it’s Juergen and Kimye who are having the last laugh after all.

The two photographs above (also by Teller) were in Phillip’s reception space, just before walking into the gallery space. I actually found them more interesting than all the other pictures in the exhibition – like I said, my brain is all about style and no substance.

In all honesty, my favourite Teller moment will always be his portraits of Winona Ryder for Marc Jacobs, so scandalous and wrong yet so right. I’m also fairly released to see that the general consensus in the online world is that this was a very bizarre photoshoot – there’s nothing wrong with me after all. I wish the Polaroids, which are just as (if not more) interesting of the ‘making-of’ had been included – you can see them here.

Apologies for publishing this post so late, as this exhibition was on from the 10th to the 20th of November of last year. But hey, if there are any Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Juergen Teller fans out there who feel this was the best threesome act of 2015, you can buy the photobook (hell yeah, of course there’s a photobook) here.

Phillips did a great job with these pictures – the layout was close to perfect. I do look forward to visiting such a beautiful space again – with a different subject matter that is.

Photographs taken by me on November 20th, 2015 at Phillips Gallery, London.

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