Teske, Edmund (Rudolph) 1911-1996
TESKE, Edmund (Rudolph) 1911-1996
PERSONAL: Born March 7, 1911, in Chicago, IL; died, 1996. Education: Attended Chicago public schools, 1916-28; self-taught in photography.
CAREER: Hull House, Theatre Department, Chicago, IL, designer, actor, make-up artist, photographer, 1933-34; A. George Muller's Photography, Inc., Chicago, assistant photographer, 1934-36; Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, Spring Green, WI, honorary fellow, 1936-37; New Bauhaus Institute of Design, Chicago, instructor, 1937-38; Katharine Kuh Gallery, Chicago, assistant, 1937-38; Federal Arts Project, Chicago, instructor, 1939-40; Berenice Abbott (photographer), New York, NY, assistant, 1940-41; United State Engineers, Rock Island Arsenal, IL, various jobs, 1941-43; Paramount Pictures, Hollywood, CA, worked in photographic department, 1944; appeared in film Lust for Life, 1956; Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles, CA, instructor, 1962-64; University of California—Los Angeles, visiting professor, 1965-70; Immaculate Heart College, Los Angeles, CA, visiting instructor, 1974; California State University of Los Angeles, visiting professor, 1979.
AWARDS, HONORS: Certificate of Recognition, Photographic Society of America, 1969.
Untitled 22: Images from Within—The Photographs ofEdmund Teske, Friends of Photography (Carmel, CA), 1980.
SIDELIGHTS: Renowned as a master of photography, particularly in the use of montage and a solarization process he called "duo-toning," Edmund Teske produced works of lyric mysticism and dreamy sensuality. While often relegated to the fringe because of his homoerotic images and his unconventional techniques, Teske earned the admiration of some of the giants of twentieth-century art, including photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Man Ray, radical filmmaker Kenneth Anger, and architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
"An eccentric, self-trained artist of the vanishing romantic school," wrote Mark Alice Durant in Art in America, Teske's images are notable for a sense of timelessness, connecting past memories with current realities. Durant wrote that "for Teske there are no fissures or breaks in history. As writer Aron Golberg has said of Teske, 'Memory and present are one to him.'" One method Teske used to convey this was through a kind of photomontage he called "composite printing," creating a singular effect out of disconnected moments. "His particular method yields a seamless image, harmonizing the newly united elements rather than producing the jarring dislocations commonly associated with montage," noted Durant.
When asked how he approached montages, Teske told an interviewer for Petersen's Photographic, "I don't approach it; it approaches me. The image material of my life experiences is like a vocabulary within me. It floats around. The images come." This dreamy quality, open to internal psychic dynamics, also marks Teske's work. As a Los Angeles Times reviewer put it, "In a sense, Teske's photographs are the visual equivalent of daydreams. In these works the texture and nuance of memories do not fade with the passing of time but grow more poignant, haunting the moment with ghostly presence."
In addition to montage, Teske conveyed this feeling through his use of a technique called the Sabattier Effect in the 1930s, but perfected by him as duotone solarization. By re-exposing negatives and manipulating darkroom chemistry, this solarization produced uniquely mysterious prints. As Durant wrote, "His prints are one-of-a-kind, gemlike objects whose opacity and mystery conjure up the image of Teske as a sort of darkroom alchemist."
While his technique set him apart, Teske was also noteworthy for his choice of subject matter. In the face of bigotry and McCarthyite attacks, he continued to produce homoerotic images and remained unapologetic in his own homosexuality. As Durant wrote in his summation in Art in America, Teske "developed an esthetic of the male body, showing unabashed joy in the expression of homoeroticism. An archivist and appropriator of his own work, Teske reuses his own images from past decades . . . unearthing photographic traces of male sensuality, re-imaging and re-imagining his longing."
After a prolific career spanning more than sixty years, Teske died in 1996, at the age of eighty-five. In an obituary for the Los Angeles Times, Weston Naef summarized the appeal of Teske's work: "Through his manipulations of both negatives and prints, Teske succeeded in turning back the mental clock, as though they were arrested dreams. Teske traveled in the realm of the imagination and persistently avoided linear thinking in favor of the poetic irrational."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Art in America, November 1993, Mark Alice Durant, "Darkroom Alchemist," p. 54.
Los Angeles Times, October 6, 2000, David Pagel, "Art Reviews: Daydreaming with the Surreal Photographs of Edmund Teske," p. F30.
Petersen's Photographic, July 1985, Franklin Cameron, "Edmund Teske," p. 12.
Los Angeles Times, December 2, 1996, Weston Naef, "Remembering Edmund Teske, a Poet-Pioneer of Photography," p. 6.*