Fashion Photography Favored in Madrid

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Juergen Teller

"Calves and Thighs"

Sala Alcala 31

Madrid, Spain

June 9 – Sept. 19, 2010

Mario Testino

"Todo o Nada"

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Sept. 21 – Jan. 9, 2010

A security guard politely reminded not to take photographs at the Juergen Teller Exhibition Calves and Thighs at Sala Alcala in Madrid a few weeks back. Coincidentally, and slightly ironically, I was standing right next to an 30-inch print of Charlotte Rampling and Raquel Zimmerman standing nude in front of the Mona Lisa at the Lourve. In the exhibition, which is more autobiographical than thematic, Teller stitches together an uneasy mixture of fashion, fantasy and sinicism. Generally known as a fashion photographer with a strong personal aesthetic, Teller puts himself into the middle of the narrative. Major players in the world of fashion are cast as supporting actors opposite the photographer (and his penis) as the protagonist. Teller’s mildly sexy scenes seem ridiculous, but they have strong narrative, just like any other great fashion or commercial photographs. That narrative goes something like this: There was supposed to be a fashion shoot, but something happened and the photographer made friends with the model. Then they got drunk or high or something and became “liberated.” This platonic feeling is surprising and unlike the ordinary picture of a model where we unconsciously think that the photographer (or someone involved with the narrative) has either just had sex with model or is about to. So, the images of glamour, eroticism and goofing-off are paired with Teller’s family photographs on opposing walls. The wall text didn’t really give me any clues why (it didn’t really address the exhibition with much depth) but the images reveal just how much of a joy picture-taking is for Teller. I imagine his personality behind the camera to be utterly without reserve. He doesn’t seem to let the camera get in the way of his pictures or his personality. It’s hard to explain. He can solicit the same reaction from his infant son as he can from a supermodel.

Across town at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, piggybacking on Teller’s exhibit, was another fashion photographer on exhibit. Mario Testino’s Todo o Nada looked at two specific ways that Testino photographs beautiful women; with clothes (Todo) and without clothes (Nada). The layout of the exhibition lead it throngs of visitors through a maze of massive color and black and white prints. It started with images of women in complex wardrobes of draped, luxorius fabric and continued on revealing more and more skin until the women were naked. The light and the color in these photographs are absolutely stunning. They are photographed with extreme control and precision down to every last detail. Everyone can appreciate these images on some level, and this may explain why there were 10 million people at the museum on that Sunday afternoon. There was however, a certain emptiness to the experience and I left with a similar feeling that I sometimes have when I leave a shopping mall or fast food restaurant; kind of sluggish and a little bit depressed. It was almost like I had just walked through a Victoria’s Secret store that didn’t have any clothes for sale. The exhibition text quotes Testino as asking, “..But where does fashion photography end and portraiture begin?” Well, I think It’s fairly obvious that fashion photography ends when you stop trying to sell clothing with your photographs, no matter how little clothing is in them.

Name index: 
James Rajotte