Nobuyoshi Araki and Juergen Teller – Leben und Tod (Life and Death)

Review by Gerhard Clausing

Mutual admiration between two photographers can be extraordinary, especially when it stimulates new work and when it happens across cultures. Even more important, this universal theme of life and death leaves no one untouched. Nobuyoshi Araki had seen Juergen Teller’s project Leben und Tod including pictures of his grieving mother and was so moved that he asked for mementos that represented the life of the Teller family, in order to make a photographic contribution to the theme. Hence, the result was this combined project and photobook by these two renowned photographers.

This is an example of grief sublimated into a range of personal pictures shared publicly, as responded to by another talented artist. The personal situation and feelings are expressed through visuals, such as a moody winter forest, with snow covering the life of spring, summer, and fall. Juergen Teller, feeling sad about the loss of his uncle and mindful of the earlier loss of his father and observing his mother in grief – a holiday season almost too much to bear. A short trip to Bhutan during that same period reminded Teller that there is also new life all around; not just the phallic symbols that are overtly bold reminders that new generations are also to come forth. Following that, there was the wonderful gesture of collaboration by Araki, consoling Teller like a son, and offering to contribute photographs of Teller family objects representing childhood memories that Juergen Teller sent him – the overall project provides some closure for Teller and for us, the viewers, as well.

Teller’s images remind us of losses we all share, and of our own keepsakes and memories that we also treasure. By creating photographs that integrate several spheres – the family history of the Teller family manufacturing violin bridges that look like little gateways to somewhere else, to new life with new possibilities, that open up new perspectives – exquisite art figurines as well as little keepsakes that may be more mundane yet personally beloved (I was touched to be reminded of the “margarine figures” and other advertising ‘giveaways’ from the 1950s that I collect) – and Asian and European figures – Araki elevates it to a universial plane that make it OUR metaphor. Old dolls surrounded by thriving new plants that hint at new life to come… Mythology, memories, reality. And, of course, Araki’s aesthetics and style are also unmistakable.

The horizontal layout of the pages, as well as the effective use of the double-page spreads for placements, juxtapositions, and continuity, make it a pleasure for the viewer to find associations. Araki becomes part of the Teller experience, and we are able to share the emotional journeys as we find ways of applying them to our own lives.

This book thus becomes a series of bridges, from Teller to Araki, then back to Teller, and now to us, as visual and emotional participants. What superficially could be mistaken for a family album takes on a higher meaning – the melding of personal approaches of each of these photographers, combining elements from two cultures to a commonly shared experience, can have meaning for all of us as the details are contemplated. The background Teller supplies in the two essays adds to our understanding. To complete the cycle, we need to observe and make some mental and emotional connections – this photobook is an interesting challenge that takes us from the personal to the universal. Take a good look inside it and inside yourself as well.

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Nobuyoshi Araki and Juergen Teller – Leben und Tod (Life and Death)

Photographers: 

            Nobuyoshi Araki (born and lives in Tokyo, Japan)

            Juergen Teller (born in Erlangen, Germany; lives in London, UK)

Publisher:  Steidl Publishers, Göttingen, Germany; © 2020

Essay and Texts:  Juergen Teller

Language:  English

Softcover in a sleeve, stitched; 72 pages with 67 images, unpaginated; 10.25 x 7.5 inches (26 x 19 cm); printed and bound in Germany by Steidl

Photobook Designer:  Juergen Teller

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Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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