‘It’s ridiculous to pretend there are no beautiful older women'
by Bethan Holt, September 2016 (United Kingdom)
He showed us Naomi, Kate and Cindy as we’d never seen them before, and catapulted a young model called Helena to fame. Bethan Holt meets Peter Lindbergh, the photographer who changed fashion for ever.
>Honest, simple images that show a natural vision of a woman’s beauty shouldn’t be a radical idea but, back then, it was.
In the late 1980s, Peter Lindbergh dared to do what few fashion photographers had done before: he showed models as they were. ‘At a time when it was all big hair and pushing the boobs up, he stripped you of those props and showed you in a different way. It’s like being photographed right when you wake up in the morning,’ was how Cindy Crawford once described Lindbergh’s method. Honest, simple images that show a natural vision of a woman’s beauty shouldn’t be a radical idea but, back then, it was.
Almost 30 years later, Lindbergh’s ~~photography~~ is still evoking surprise. Last year, the 71-year-old German’s portraits for Vogue Italia of the now 40- and 50-something supermodels he’d helped to make famous in the 1990s went viral. ‘It’s ridiculous to pretend there are no beautiful older women,’ he tells me passionately. Clearly, it can take the world a while to catch up with what Lindbergh knows only too well.
This autumn, an exhibition of his works goes on display at the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam. Entitled A Different Vision of Fashion Photography, the retrospective will span more than 30 years and take in a full spectrum of his agenda-changing images. Lindbergh is in high demand these days. Barely a month goes by without a shoot of his appearing in one Vogue magazine or another.
This summer, he was commissioned to shoot a refreshed and relaxed version of the Pirelli calendar starring a clutch of his favourite women including Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Uma Thurman. He admires them because ‘they all have the courage to be exactly as they are’.
But the path to glory was not a straightforward one. A now-seminal shot of the young supers – among them Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz and Linda Evangelista – was rejected by American Vogue for being too raw and laid-back. And when Anna Wintour eventually became editor of the magazine and recognised Lindbergh’s promise, he still had to break down long-ingrained attitudes.
“I remember one of the first things I did with Anna; I loved SoHo at the time – there were no shops, only galleries and artists roaming the streets. When I told the people in the office my plan to shoot there, the response was, ‘SoHo? Vogue doesn’t go downtown. Vogue is uptown.’ I couldn’t believe it.
I asked Anna: ‘What is wrong with the guys here?’And she said, ‘Don’t think about it, that is all the old stuff, you go to SoHo.’”
There are more than 220 images in the exhibition. Here, Lindbergh tells the story behind a few of the most memorable.
>“When I saw Helena for the first time, I was flabbergasted.” - Peter Lindbergh
TURNING KATE MOSS INTO A ~~TEDDY BOY~~
“I heard this interview with Kate Moss and she was saying she had grown up with my pictures, that we had worked together quite a lot but that we weren’t close like me and Linda Evangelista,” Lindbergh recalls. “She was complaining about it a little bit and it was very cute.”
Moss’s words spurred him to organise “a very personal story” for Vogue Italia in 2015. But the inspiration came from the most unlikely of places: “I shot a story about a Teddy boys reunion in England. The guys were all in their 50s and they didn’t have any hair any more. It was the most ridiculous and funny thing I’ve ever seen. That was what we remembered here. It represented a new Kate but it also sets the tone for the exhibition, which is about being less commercial and less beautiful.”
THE OFF-DUTY ~~SUPER SNAP~~
British Vogue chose Lindbergh to usher in the new decade by commissioning him to capture the new supermodels for its January 1990 cover. The black-and-white group shot (at the top of this feature) was a refreshingly simple antidote to the glitz and glamour of the ’80s.
“They were the kind of models who were really independent, joyful and sporty, but – most importantly – they were strong in themselves. I thought that should be the future,” he says. During the shoot, Lindbergh’s friend, Jim Rakete, urged him to get into a photo himself.
Christy, Naomi, Cindy and co’s affectionate crowding around and Lindbergh’s own wry smile encapsulate his easy-going, genuine relationship with his subjects.
“I’m embarrassed to have my picture taken but I’m happy Jim did it,” Lindbergh says now. “I felt totally uncomfortable and I have a strange look on my face but I accidentally looked so good in this picture. I really liked them. You learn a lot from being photographed as a photographer.”
INDIAN MAGIC WITH ~~NATALIA~~
The tale of a dramatically beautiful image of Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova on a Goan beach in 2002 is proof of Lindbergh’s pulling power.
“I had a place in India where I went twice a year. It’s very special to me because it’s where I met my wife, and our friends had a beautiful hotel there,” he says.
“Harper’s Bazaar wanted me to do this story, but I said, ‘I’m in India so you can come and do the story here if you like.’”And so the exquisite Alexander McQueen gowns and all followed him to India. “Natalia is astonishingly beautiful. It’s amazing; she’s almost like a baby, really,” he laughs.
AN ALIEN LOVE STORY ~~FOR HELENA~~
“When I saw Helena for the first time, I was flabbergasted,” Lindbergh says fondly. “I said to her that I had this story in mind that I wanted her to be in – but [asked her not to] work for three months so that nobody would know her face when it came out.”
Christensen dutifully obliged. The 1990 shoot is a surreal story of a woman meeting an alien who has crashed to earth in a UFO. “You could really see that they were in love. When he has to leave, she stays in the desert crying,” Lindbergh says.
These narrative-driven shoots reveal another, more mystical side to the photographer and were a signature of his early work. “I am so grateful for Peter seeing behind my teenaged, fluffy look and finding some girl behind there,” Christensen has said.
AN ALIEN LOVE STORY ~~FOR HELENA~~
“I’m in love with Charlotte!’ says Lindbergh, practically exploding at the mention of the legendary actress’s name. “I know her really well; we used to be neighbours in Paris. She’s one of the few people I see privately sometimes.”
Rampling’s approach to photo shoots is as free-spirited now as it was when this Vanity Fair portrait was taken in 1987 – as exemplified by Lindbergh’s account of their most recent shoot, for the 2017 Pirelli calendar.
“She was sitting in make-up with no clothes on. The stylist came to offer her a bathrobe and she said, ‘Please go away with this; you break my whole spirit. Sitting in a bathrobe would be terrible.’ She’s so funny and direct. I have pictures of her from the past 30 years – that’s amazing, no?”
>“He loves women. He really sees the beauty in a mature woman” - Cindy Crawford
“He loves women. He really sees the beauty in a mature woman,” Cindy Crawford said in a film created to accompany this shoot for Vogue Italia last year, which reunited her with familiar faces from her modelling heyday.
Lindbergh has been at the vanguard of forcing the fashion industry to rethink its ideas about age, so bringing together all of his favourite models from the early ’90s was an elegantly powerful way to make a point.
“I wanted to show that they look as good today. Actually, I think they look even better than before,’ he says. ‘So wake up and don’t believe people who tell you you’re finished when you’re 40. That’s my reason for doing this.”