Occasional mag review: Teller

Picked up a copy of new magazine Teller at the Tate shop a few days ago and now have read most of it. It’s a 64-page stapled thing about the size of a posh Sunday supp magazine. Comes from “London and Berlin” and calls itself “a magazine of stories”, which breaks down to four photo essays (of 16, 9, 11 and 13 images), two short stories, one travelogue, one anecdote and one autobiographical sketch.

Clearly they’re casting their definition of ‘story’ reasonably wide, though for my taste the scales come down a bit too heavily on the visual side – I count 40 pages of visuals against 18 of text, once you’ve taken out the bits and bobs.

Perhaps once you’ve decided to go for a certain quality of production (and the quality is good: photo reproductions work well on the matt pages) it seems wasteful to give space over to words instead of pictures. Maybe not, I claim no knowledge of the production of these things.

As for the content, it’s variable but certainly encouraging. The main story, ‘Potroom Willie’ by Lee Scrivner, is a fresh take on the ‘world through an animal’s eyes’ genre that kept me fully engaged on the post-lunch train ride home.  Potroom Willie, a dog, lives with an old poor couple in back of Texas and has little to his life beyond eating and expelling food:

Then came the jowl machinations of the eating, the most elementary form of mental grasping except for sniffing. And he would suck and vacuum up all that sustenance into his entrails. And he would hork and gulp at the fastest possible rate of consumption. Ravenous, he would devour even the residue of the meaty goop on the sides of the bowl and along the floor, even if it was mixed in with mud and dust and live and Mop-N-Glo.

 You might be given to think that the story’s just going to continue in this lively, blinkered vein, but it does open up in a rather unexpected way – a slack-jawed, damn-you-Lee-Scrivner, staring-dumbly-ahead kind of way that absolutely suits this manner of reading stories: with no foreknowledge, at random, in mags like this, rather than, you know, in a collection, or something.

The other fiction, by former Spacemen 3/Spiritualized bassist Will Carruthers is a tour anecdote that certainly passes the time amusingly (and makes me think: god but former indie musicians will keep coming out with books, won’t they – though personally I can’t wait for James Yorkston’s tour diaries next year). It’s an accolade that I wouldn’t extend to the other prose outings – Thomas Rees’s account of a horse race in the Central Asian steppes made me wince a fair few times. (“Sheep, munching contendedly around the yurt tents, are slaughtered… The race is a siren call to horsemen across the flatlands” and so on.)

Of the photography, the stand-out selections are Flavie Guerrand’s ‘I Slid Across The Floor’, a diary of bohemian parties in France during the 90s, and ‘This Time Tomorrow’, a similar look at posh white people letting their hair down in Kenya in the mid 50s, taken by one Charles Trotter.

The one is dim blurred glimpses of cool people working up to or coming down from vaguely suggested debauchery – people, y’know, kind of like us. The other is crisp monochrome snapshots of awful people behaving awfully in a distant, sheltered little world.

The implication, naturally, being that foul time will take our holy condemnation of those nasty Empire lackeys and smear it across the pages of history to attach it to the cool kids of France that we so admire and approve of. Judge not, etc.

As a whole, it’s an intriguing bundling-up of fiction and fact and, at £3.50, very well priced indeed. I would just have liked more in the way of decent, solid stringing together of words. Yes, it’s true that humans tell stories in all kinds of ways, but some of them (the life story, the anecdote) are best heard over a pint, or over a cup of tea, or just overheard. The printed page makes greater demands. Or I make greater demands of my printed pages.

It’ll go on the shelf, though and – not having a spine – is in danger of disappearing for ever. If I make a mental book mark, it will be more for the photos than the text. And I’ll keep an eye out for #2.

PS Good name, too. Straightforward yet enigmatic. Almost an anagram of Letter. And Relent.

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2 comments

  1. Kasper

    In addition to the name: Teller (based in London and Berlin) is German for ‘Platter’ or ‘Plate’. This explains ‘a platter for your enjoyment’ in the description on the back cover.

  2. Kelvin

    How do photos tell stories ? The operator points, the machine captures the image, the viewer infers the story. People may be able to talk photos up but there is much more luck and far less intellect or art than in the production of a successful written story. I enjoyed Teller magazine, particularly the dog story.

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