April 18, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Juergen Teller’s odd photos of celebs in L.A. spawn memes

During a pandemic, completely unscientific non-research has proved (100%!) that we are compelled to spend more time fixating on small, mundane things like celebrity photos.

Now W magazine has delivered bigly with its new “Best Performances” series photographed by world-renowned shooter Juergen Teller.

Bring on the basic lighting and awkward poses from the likes of LaKeith Stanfield, Jared Leto, Steven Yeun, Tessa Thompson, Robin Wright, Leslie Odom Jr. and more.

While George Clooney, Sacha Baron Cohen, Gal Gadot, Vanessa Kirby and Michelle Pfeiffer were photographed at various other locations, the bulk of the stars were snapped on what appears to be a random L.A. street, with random construction, a random building and a random tree as backdrops and some random cars and a random folding chair as props.

Jacob Elordi lay down in the dirt at the tree’s roots, where he no doubt got tons of fallen leaves and twigs stuck on what seems like a perfectly nice sweater. Nicole Beharie perched in a shopping cart taken from a 99 Cents Only store.

On social media, people vibed on the odd nature of Teller’s pictures, which also included Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Riz Ahmed, Maria Bakalova, Rachel Brosnahan, Andra Day, Tom Holland, Alan Kim, Jonathan Majors, Otmara Marrero, Taylour Paige, Tracee Ellis Ross and Talia Ryder.

Like clockwork, the memes were born:

The German fashion and celeb photographer — who notably once shot a magazine spread of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West and himself amid derelict grounds in France — apparently digs the not-so-perfect look in his work? Clearly, people don’t understand his genius. Or why W cut him a check.

Basically, nobody was damning Teller with faint praise. He was called a “menace” and “photographic terrorist” who was awaited at the Hague — seriously — for his “war crimes.”

“Sound of Metal” star Ahmed stirred the pot even more with a tweet about Teller’s artistic approach: “This @wmag shoot was the fastest of my life. 20 seconds, two clicks. Juergen Teller is the OG,” the actor wrote.

So, speed kills? Twitter peeps riffed on Ahmed’s tweet as well.

The pandemic has definitely forced photographers to adapt.

Stripped of studio shoots, Los Angeles Times photographers have gone to great lengths to capture celebs’ images safely via outdoor shoots, shoots through windows and shoots through iPads. And L.A.-based celebrity photographer Brian Bowen Smith grabbed a Leica and went on a road trip during the thick of the crisis to create a picture book, “Drivebys,” benefitting Feeding America.

Teller’s W spread arrives right as public discourse has hit a fever pitch about how magazines portray celebrities, particularly prominent Black women such as Vice President Kamala Harris, rapper Megan Thee Stallion, actress Viola Davis and Olympic athlete Simone Biles.

Meanwhile, Teller — who thinks iPhone cameras are cool and “accessible” and has been known to use them professionally — has spoken out in the past about why celebrities do what he wants them to do, often parting ways with their carefully crafted public images.

“They only do it because they see it in me. It’s very difficult to explain, but it makes complete sense. I want adventure in my life. I want to do things I haven’t done before,” he told Business of Fashion in 2015. “These Hollywood people are so careful of their image and looking right, but there’s a wildness when I come into the photographs. I just want to wade through rivers, climb mountains. And I prevail.”

So it goes in the Great Pandemic, where adventure looks like standing outside next to a tree and parked cars on a Los Angeles street. Masks be damned.

Maybe that’s the “adventure.”