Interview

by Beatrice Zamponi, 2015 (Italy)


Everything began with a white shirt, like the one worn by Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, or the battle-torn shirt that, a few decades earlier in 1830, was worn by Liberty Leading the People in the famous painting by Eugene Delacroix. ~~The pure,~~ simple man’s garment that on a female body has become a symbol of anti-conformity, independence and strength, is the same as the one that in 1988 Peter Lindbergh chose to portray a group of young women on the beach, transforming them into the future heroines of years to come. > Everything began with a white shirt. Stripped of any other superfluous accessory, the girls stare at the viewer with pride, strengthened by a pure and powerful beauty that rings out like a new statement of identity. “If those images were published, it was thanks to Anna Wintour. Vogue had rejected them at first because they were too far from the opulent aesthetics of the time. But when she became the magazine’s editor, without hesitation she gave me twenty pages and the cover. >“What is merely beautiful has always bored me, I’m interested in what is powerful and real.” Then, shortly afterwards, she chose them to represent the decade of the 1980s in the book celebrating the magazine’s centenary.” And so it was that at the hand of Peter Lindbergh, the Venus that was to fascinate the 1990s rose from the sea, bearer of a totally new aesthetic composed of an essential and primordial beauty: “What is merely beautiful has always bored me, I’m interested in what is powerful and real,” says the master of photography to Flair. “This view originates in my belonging to German culture. My inspirational world has always been Germany in the 1920s: the edgy painting of Max Beckmann, the visionary cinema of Fritz Lang, and the provocative dancing of Valeska Gert. Very far from New York ‘Studio 54’ that everybody talks about and Andy Warhol with his really boring photographs!” Similar to German expressionism, at the core of Lindbergh’s work is the body in all its versions, tensions and research of movement. >Lindbergh's sets are made out of nothing: a floor of chipped cement, a black backdrop, a chair. A few significant elements are arranged in perfect equilibrium. Unforgettable are his sequences in which groups of models dance wearing mostly light tunics, with hands and feet purposely dirty, almost transforming them into performers on a stage. Lindbergh studied painting before becoming a photographer and was influenced by conceptual art. His sets are made out of nothing: a floor of chipped cement, a black backdrop, a chair. A few significant elements are arranged in perfect equilibrium, like on the set of Jerzy Grotowski’s ‘poor theatre’. A similarly minimalist aesthetics also characterizes his shoots on location, often taken inside imposing industrial settings and dominated by the power of black and white photography, reminiscent of the colours of the mineral basin of the Ruhr where Lindbergh grew up amongst coal, iron and huge factories: “This type of architecture has really influenced and defined my sensitivity. Since I was a child I’ve been fascinated by enormous modern cathedrals and I have learnt to find harmony and beauty even in apparent desolation.” ~~It is precisely~~ this setting that he chose as the location for his first ad campaigns commissioned by Comme des Garçons, initiating a famous artistic partnership: “The day when I met Rei Kawakubo, the brand designer, I was received in a room full of Japanese women dressed in black and one of them was her. She didn’t speak a word of English or of French; she only had an assistant tell me that she loved my work and she gave me complete freedom. I asked the production to find some industrial machines that were really impressive. And while I photographed the models standing motionless in front of enormous gearwheels and steam, I finally felt that I was expressing all the visual and emotional baggage I was carrying inside me.” In these images the women wear uniforms, they look like standard bearers, soldiers guarding an imaginary castle. >"It is about my fascination for the 1920s when the kind of strong woman I love asserted itself: like Marlene Dietrich, transformist par excellence, feminine but at the same time androgynous and totally unconventional." Lindbergh in fact often plays with sexual ambiguity and portrays his girls in men’s clothing: [I think that here also it is about my fascination for the 1920s when the kind of strong woman I love asserted itself: like ~~Marlene Dietrich~~, transformist par excellence, feminine but at the same time androgynous and totally unconventional.] The film Supermodels begins with Linda, Cindy and Naomi dressed up as men. The photographer dedicated it to those top models who, during his career, he consecrated to immortality and who still today can be called without their surnames, creating no misunderstandings: “For the first time their faces were enough, no context of belonging was needed to identify them. My images were at last making people look at the woman herself. All the rest, fashion included, came afterwards.” The proposal to shoot the Pirelli calendar in 2002 provided another opportunity for the artist to further explore his constant research on feminine identity: “I asked myself where beauty originated. The answer is: from intelligence and talent. So I made a rather unconventional choice, taking only very young actresses who at the time were only at the beginning of their career and I photographed them without undressing them. Eroticism is a mental fact, you don’t need to see a naked nipple.” Filmmaking had already been used as subject matter in the 1996 Pirelli calendar edition – Lindbergh is one of the few to have shot it twice – in which the photographer plays with some of his constituent elements. Lighting, backdrops, functional equipment are made visible, but in contrast with the desolate and barren nature of the desert and the bodies, this time naked, of the models: “In some cases seeing the creative process can be more interesting than the result itself. And also it’s a way of getting closer to the viewer and bringing him inside the image. It’s a matter of participation and contact.” In one of the shots Eva Herzigova is curled up against a black backdrop, but her foot sticks out of the background and touches the dusty cracked ground, creating a bridge between fiction and reality. >"I don’t cut the images after shooting: the framing is done in the camera. This sometimes leads me to find myself really close to the subject, creating a very strong bond." Constructing an outdoor set and cutting out the context, or only allowing a glimpse of the surrounding environment to be perceived, is a recurring theme in Lindbergh’s work: “In this way the energy of reality enters the photograph through the light of day, the wind and every little unexpected event that shooting outdoors can entail. The result is completely different from a photograph shot in a studio, even though what you see in the end is only a plain dark backdrop.” The link with the subject and the attempt to understand it intimately remains a constant factor that guides Peter Lindbergh also in image construction: “Unlike many other photographers I don’t cut the images after shooting: the framing is done in the camera. This sometimes leads me to find myself really close to the subject, creating a very strong bond.”