About the Photographer
Active first in Chicago and then in Los Angles, Edmund Teske created an innovative and lyrical body of work that was characterized by a high degree of technical and formal experimentation and infused with an intensely personal vision. An innovator in the darkroom, he approached photographs as a malleable art form and frequently used superimposed imagery and solarization processes.
Born and raised in Chicago, Teske pursued music, art, and poetry as a child and took his first photograph at the age of seven. In the early 1920s he learned darkroom techniques in grammar school from a teacher who inspired his life-long interest in photography. Dropping out of high school, he became enrapt with the medium and began seeking out photographers in Chicago. In the early 1930s he made his first significant photographs and immersed himself in the city's artistic community. 1936 was a notable year for the young photographer: traveling to New York he met Alfred Stieglitz, an experience he described as formative; later that year he was invited by Frank Lloyd Wright to stay at the architect's Wisconsin studio, Taliesin North, as a photographer for the Taliesin fellowship program. Wright and the other artists and musicians staying there helped shape Teske's ideas about creative production and the artist's role in society.
After a period back in Chicago--where he taught informally at the New Bauhaus (later named the Institute of Design) with László Moholy Nagy and commenced a series of photographs called Portrait of My City--Teske moved to Los Angeles. Although initially drawn by the allure of Hollywood, he eventually took up residence in a studio designed by Wright for the oil heiress, Aline Barnsdell, at her invitation. During this time, while pursuing his own work, he came to know a number of artists and filmmakers including Man Ray and George Cukor. In his early years in Los Angeles, Teske also became deeply interested in Vedantic thought, a branch of Indian philosophy steeped in Hindu mythology that stresses the unity of all things in the universe. It was a major influence on Teske's subsequent work, leading him to explore the possibilities of merging multiple images and to work in a more symbolic vein.
Teske increasingly pursued experimental directions. In the darkroom he manipulated and combined photographs, superimposing multiple images to create new pictorial realities and to give shape to a personal vision. Many of his composite images are characterized by a latent homoeroticism, with the male figure as a recurring motif situated among other photographic elements. The somewhat disguised presence of the male nude may have been a necessary response to the social constraints to the time, when any display of homosexuality was frowned upon and potentially dangerous for an artist. Culminating from his technical experiments, in 1958 Teske perfected a new process that Edward Steichen later named duotone solarization, which yields unique prints with reversed light and dark tones and unusual color effects in shades of mostly red or brown.
Teske exhibited extensively in his lifetime, including at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Pasadena Art Museum; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Ceeje Gallery, Los Angeles. A monograph of Teske’s work, Images from Within, was published in 1980. In 1993 the J. Paul Getty Museum featured his work in the solo exhibition Being and Becoming: Photographs by Edmund Teske, and in 2004 the Getty presented a major retrospective of his work, Spirit into Matter: The Photographs of Edmund Teske.