GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS
by Glenn O'brien, September 1996 (United States)
A love affair with personality characterizes Peter Lindbergh’s approach to fashion photography, celebrated in his new book, «10 Women by Peter Lindbergh.»
Back in high school, back in the ’60s, back in Duisburg, Germany (rhymes with—and resembles—Pittsburgh), young Peter Lindbergh was not voted «most likely to become a famous fashion photographer.» And meeting him today for the first time, you would probably guess that he was a sculptor, a test pilot, a chef, a vintner, or a stuntman long before you got around to fashion photographer. He doesn’t really look or talk like a guy who takes pictures of dresses.
>Peter Lindbergh makes pictures of women. The clothes are incidental, as they should be.
And he isn’t, which is exactly what makes him special. Peter Lindbergh makes pictures of women. The clothes are incidental, as they should be. Lindbergh has the authority to put clothing in its place—as the servant, not the master, of personality. In essence he’s a portrait artist who is able to employ the special arsenal of effects available to a fashion photographer. Sometimes his work is an elaborate, ephemeral narrative. Sometimes it’s absolutely simple.
A Lindbergh shoot can have the production values of a Von Sternberg film or the instant candor of a snapshot. His signature is the elegance of his emotional intuition, his eye for the subtleties of the psyche. «I don’t really care about fashion,» he says. «I follow it. It’s my job. But I’m more interested in ideas and in the girls.»
Lindbergh loves «the girls,» and that love inspires and informs his work. His new book, 10 Women by Peter Lindbergh (Te Neues), features something pretty close to the top 10 on the supermodel charts Naomi, Helena, Cindy, Linda, Kristen, Kate, Tatjana, Claudia, Christy, and Amber. «This book is not about my work,» says Lindbergh. «It’s about ten girls. I’m not saying they’re the ten most beautiful girls in the world, but these are girls that I love and have worked with a lot in the last few years. I think I’m just getting started working with ~~Nadja and~~ Shalom. I’m working a lot with Nadja, and I’ll call her up and say, ‘Come on over, Number Eleven.'»
>"Good pictures come from passion." - Peter Lindbergh
Asked whether being an out-of-the-closet heterosexual fashion photographer makes his work different from that of a homosexual photographer, he tells me, «People have suggested that as a heterosexual man I might photograph a woman differently from a homosexual man. I don’t know if that’s true. I think that good pictures come from passion, but it’s a different passion than sex. I photograph a woman not because she has a perfect nose or a perfect body, but because of a strong feeling I have about her. And that feeling comes from her character, from real depth, from being special. The big girls are always interesting. They bear no resemblance to the creatures with the hyperlives that you read about in the gossip columns."
«I got into fashion photography by accident,» he continues. «I did advertising photography for five years. Then one day a magazine editor called me and said that my advertising didn’t look like advertising. He gave me a fashion story. I did it, then Stern saw it and gave me fourteen pages.» From Stern, Lindbergh went to Marie Claire, Vogue, and later, Harper’s Bazaar, all the while working for an elite list of clients on print and television campaigns.
>"Lindbergh consciously fights against the melancholic veil of recent past." - Karl Lagerfeld
In his introduction to 10 Women, Karl Lagerfeld notes that Lindbergh’s work is grounded in a total involvement with the moment. It is neither nostalgic nor futuristic. «The present, irrevocable moment is here stronger than any notion of future and fate… Lindbergh consciously fights against the melancholic veil of recent past. Of the ten women in this book perhaps only Amber Valletta and Kate Moss possess the key to the mysterious door of the near visual future.»
Whatever face the future presents, Lindbergh will capture it, because he is drawn to character and originality. He has the ability to discern the unique potential in a personality—as he did with Linda Evangelista 10 years ago—and help it bloom. «I’m sure there will be another ten women that I find really special,» the photographer says. «You can meet a girl once and realize that she has something.»
In addition to 10 Women, Lindbergh’s work will be celebrated in an upcoming retrospective from the same publisher, and in an exhibit that travels to the ~~United States~~ next year. «The show consists of over two hundred large photos. We shipped 3.7 tons of photographs,» Lindbergh notes in a modest, Germanically precise boast.
Lindbergh has also won at least 3.7 tons of awards, and will shortly receive the justly coveted Lucky Strike Designer Award, presented by the Raymond Loewy Foundation. It’s an award that Lindbergh takes particular pride in, perhaps because he studied object design, perhaps because of his interest in painting, but most likely because he can identify with a modernist Renaissance man like Loewy. The famed industrial designer liked to do it all, practicing a form of art that didn’t shrink from science, utility, business, or beauty. Lindbergh is an artist and a businessman. His business is to cultivate, capture, and distribute beauty, and he’s doing an excellent job.