EMILY KING: Did your plans initially get turned down for planning permission?
JUERGEN TELLER: You know what? I’d have to pass that over to Tom [the architect of the building, Tom Emerson of 6a]. I can’t remember. It was stressful: so exciting, but also so boring. Once it’s all behind you, you can’t remember the details and you don’t want to remember. I just remember being in the middle of it, how much everything cost, how I worried about the cost so much.
EK: There’s a rule of thumb for a building project: it will take twice as long and cost twice as much as the estimate.
JT: That’s what everybody says, and that’s exactly what happened when we built our first house: it was twice as long and double the cost. But it wasn’t as bad this time round. There’s still things that are wrong here – the heating is a problem and the shutters are broken – but it’s mostly good.
EK: Do you remember your first vision of how the place might be?
JT: Well, first of all, Sadie [the gallerist Sadie Coles, mother of Juergen’s son Ed] was a huge help with visualising it. She had the idea of the gardens, and, from that idea on, we started drawing this thing up. It was clear once we’d established the gardens, that the studio would be in the middle, the storage and the office would be at the front, and then at the back there’d be a quieter area – I definitely wanted a sauna, and a kitchen, and a library. But my attitude is: once you decide who you’re going to use, you submit to his expertise, and you let him do what he thinks is best. I know my best work comes when the client puts total trust in me, so I handed things over to Tom and I think he enjoyed that. With certain things, certain materials, I gave him a carte blanche.
EK: So he chose the concrete and the breeze blocks?
JT: I was a bit worried at the beginning about how it would look, because I come from the forest and, when I was growing up, my house had a lot of wood. I thought it might be too cold or something, but it’s not at all. That was my only worry, but then I went for it.
EK: The gardens really soften it.
JT: My studio gradually became smaller and smaller and the gardens bigger and bigger, and I’m thinking, “This is meant to be a studio!” But actually it turns out that I use the gardens the same amount, or even more than the studio itself, for photographing. I’m so happy. I don’t regret a single thing. It’s super calm and quiet and there’s enough space for everybody to work.
EK: How many people are here?
JT: Four full-timers and then I have some freelance people who come in, like the archivist who comes in three times a week, and a bookkeeper. It fluctuates.
EK: Have you got more staff since you’ve moved here?
JT: Yes, of course, it’s bigger.
EK: Does it feel a bit more like Juergen Teller Inc now?
JT: That comes with everything. I’ve realised that I’m a product. I have a certain value as Juergen Teller Limited. The big change was when I went digital. Working with analogue film was so time consuming, but now I can edit on the Eurostar.
EK: Is there anything you miss about analogue?
JT: Completely not.
EK: Is there a darkroom here?
JT: Not a darkroom as such but I do have all my printing facilities. I’ve created a new company, which is called Quickfix. It’s my retoucher, who works on the colours, so if the client wants to have something retouched we can do it right here. And I can make big prints, three-by-four-metre prints, and that’s super exciting. I can play around with print; it’s much more organic, instead of going to a lab and worrying how much everything costs.
EK: What’s that noise?
JT: The windows. They go up automatically.
EK: Responding to heat?
JT: To the air quality and the heat, everything like that. I can’t figure them out. Sometimes I find them a bit annoying.
EK: How often do they do it?
JT: Irregularly. Maybe once a day or something. I don’t know.
EK: Is there any single thing about this building that you particularly love?
JT: Apart from the gardens, the brass. The brass was a real killer. It goes through the whole building.
EK: A killer cost-wise?
JT: It came to £70,000 throughout the building. My accountant said, “Are you mad? Why don’t you just pay £20,000 and say it’s okay?” but Tom really wanted to have the brass, so I said, “Well, if you say so, let’s do it.”
EK: What’s surprised you most in creating this space?
JT: Well, all my life I’ve never thought about money, really. It came relatively easily to me, maybe because I didn’t care about it. I just wanted to do my pictures. Working with people like Marc Jacobs or Vivienne Westwood was a joy, and they gave me money, so it was all good. But this project cost me so much money that I had to think about doing jobs in order to finance the whole thing. I’m very German and very conservative in the way I was brought up to think about money.
EK: Did you ever regret starting on this project?
JT: It took so long. The whole thing from beginning to end was five years, and in the middle of it I just thought, “What the hell am I doing? I don’t want to be trapped, I don’t even need a studio. I can just go to LA and shoot wherever.” But as soon as the building was ready, it was heaven. Nobody wanted to leave, everyone working here stayed longer, we had fun together. Immediately it started to be creative for me. I did things in this studio that I would never have foreseen. Actually I never thought I would use the studio so much as a place to shoot.
EK: Have any of your shoots been inspired by this place?
JT: After the building was finished, the first shoot I did here was the thing with the plates which was published in Arena Homme+. It was three whole days of people coming in and out.
EK: Why the plates?
JT: Because that’s my name, Teller. Teller means plate in German. It took me 50 years to realise what a good object it is. If I give you a plate, then it’s a self-portrait, it’s me with you. You know what I mean? It’s about finding your own signature, finding your own language. More and more people try to copy my work. My name being Teller, by using the plate in this studio, nobody can go anywhere near this. I completely own it. As an artist or a photographer, you have to find a way of owning something.