Review by Wayne Swanson •
Depending on your point of view, the fine art and fashion photography of Juergen Teller is either “iconic” and “idiosyncratic” on the one hand, or “amateurish” and “ugly” on the other. So it should be no surprise that his approach to photographing architecture would be a bit out of the ordinary.
Rather than making pristine images that celebrate the formal precision and artistry of the finished structure, Teller finds beauty in the organized chaos of construction. “I liked the diggers, cranes, cables, concrete and dirt. Not in a macho or childish way, but appreciating how all this construction produces such a beautiful mess,” he writes in the introduction to Plumtree Court.
Teller spent five years documenting the construction of Plumtree Court, the massive 850,000 square-foot European headquarters of Goldman Sachs in Central London designed by internationally known lead architect Kohn Pedersen Fox and a team of other prominent architects. The result is an equally massive collection of 412 images spread over 256 pages.
We see hard-hatted workers, cranes, scaffolds, and heavy machinery. We see the girders, wiring, cables, and all the other building materials that would end up within the paneled, painted, and carpeted spaces of the finished building. We see interior details as they emerge throughout the construction process. We see rows of desks and computer monitors waiting for the numbers crunchers who will be working there. We see spaces grand and mundane that will serve all the needs of a large workforce and its clients.
Teller uses single images, combinations, and collages to celebrate all the forms and compositions that make up a high-profile building. There are well-composed still lifes worthy of a corporate brochure and messy construction scenes. He breaks down time with image combinations capturing the before, during, and after phases of construction. And he creates collages that play off the repetitive geometry of curtain walls and other structural forms. All of it is presented large on 9.5 x 13-inch pages, with some images presented full-bleed across both pages of the spread.
It’s an unusual inside-out approach to architectural photography. Teller covers the materials, structural members, and interior spaces in great detail. Yet there are only a few glimpses of the exterior facades, and no establishing shot of the giant glass box with rounded corners that resulted from the beautiful mess of construction.
Teller clearly relished the opportunity to immerse himself in the long-term construction project. With so many images, the book verges on overkill, but it also could be argued that it takes all the images to convey what a massive undertaking it is to create a world-class building capable of serving the needs of a diverse range of employees, clients, and support personnel.
Plumtree Court effectively captures the contrasts between past and present, order and chaos, new architectural forms and the surrounding cityscape. Put it all together, and you have one beautiful mess.
Teller was part of two collaborations that were previously reviewed on PhotoBook Journal: William Eggleston 414 by Teller and Harmony Korine and Leben und Tod (Life and Death) by Teller and Nobuyoshi Araki.
Plumtree Court, Juergen Teller
Photographer: Juergen Teller, born Erlangen, Germany, resides London, England
Publisher: Steidl (Göttingen, Germany, copyright 2020)
Introduction: Juergen Teller
Cloth-covered hardcover book with dust jacket, sewn binding, four-color lithography, 256 pages, 412 images, 9.75 x 13 in., printed in Germany
Photobook designer: Catalin Plesa/Juergen Teller
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