TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT February 1997

FLASH TRACK: JUERGEN TELLER PHOTOGRAPHS VIVIENNE WESTWOOD

STYLE-MAKING IMAGES HAPPEN WHEN VISIONARY DESIGN MEETS INNOVATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY. EACH MONTH IN THIS SERIES, ARTFORUM PRESENTS A COLLABORATION BETWEEN A PHOTOGRAPHER AND A DESIGNER WHO SHARE A SPECIAL AFFINITY.

REVISIONING THE SANITIZED BODY of commercial fashion, Juergen Teller’s images suggest a postcoital aesthetic, the messy pleasures of a sexuality with consequence. A recent series for the magazine supplement of Suddeutsche Zeitung shows a naked Kristen McMenamy, her shoulder bruised from dislocation, her flesh as mottled and pale as an anemic Soutine. In one shot a tampon string peeks from between her thighs; the name “Versace” scrawled across her behind is framed by a sloppy red-lipstick heart. In another, our attention is drawn to a fringe of undepilated hair breaking out from an unflatteringly flesh-toned G-string. As fashion images these might be discounted as just another, perhaps more provocative take on the narcosis of the real, were it not for the intensity, part strength, part vulnerability, that unsteadies the sexualized flesh. Heading past glamour’s crumple zone, Teller takes us to the crash site of the body beautiful.

Like his contemporaries Corinne Day, David Sims, and Nigel Shafran, Teller’s first exposure came through British style magazines—The Face, Arena, and iD. In collaboration with stylist Venetia Scott, he mixed the conventions of documentary portraiture with the demands of fashion to create images of innocence fringed by darkness. Think Gena Rowlands in Cassavetes’ Woman Under the Influence or Larry Clark’s girls next door—all hormones and teen lust, sultry in their barely contained rebellion. Later, in a series of campaigns for Katharine Hamnett, Teller would photograph McMenamy, frozen and crystalline in the nimbus of the camera’s flash; for Helmut Lang, it was a mélange of fragmented body parts and discarded garments—vertiginous moments of backstage chaos. If the affect—raw and uncensored—belongs to Britain’s young fashion iconoclasts, the chemistry lies elsewhere: in the melancholia of romance fleshed in failure.

Teller’s portrait of Vivienne Westwood captures the queen of dissolution slumped on a park bench, her ankles twisted and bound by trademark platforms, legs lacerated by hose. Famous for her statement that “sex is fashion,” few designers have done more to unravel the coherence of the body or dismantle the regimes governing the sexualization of its territories. Hers has been a reign of erotogenic anarchy. Extending over nearly three decades—from the delinquent antifashion of punk with its conflation of sex and violence to the subversive conformism of twinsets and tweeds—Westwood’s collections have swung from dominatrix to courtly wench. Turning convention on its head, Westwood’s underwear as outerwear, bodice-ripper corsets, the hobble of heels fetishized to disabling heights have made her the Situationist of seams. Here, staring into the middle distance, she, like Teller, might be absorbed in the contemplation of an imperfect beauty—the dawning aesthetic of the morning after the night before.

Neville Wakefield is a writer and art critic living in New York.

Flash Track is organized in collaboration with Paris contributor Olivier Zahm.

A collection of Juergen Teller’s photographs that includes an interview with the photographer by Neville Wakefield was recently published by Taschen.