“If photographers are responsible for creating or reflecting an image of women in society, then I must say, there is only one way for the future, and this is to define women as strong and independent. This should be the responsibility of photographers today: to free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection.” -Peter Lindbergh

Peter Lindberg: Fashion photography’s change agent

On Photography: Peter Lindbergh 1944-2019
Peter Lindbergh in Manhattan in 1990 with, clockwise from lower left, Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista. Photo by Jim Rakete.

Lindberg, a native of Poland, began working for U.S. Vogue in the 1980s. He shared with the magazine’s editorial director, Alex Liberman, that he did not like the way the women in the magazine looked like they were showing off their husbands’ money.

Liberman threw down the gauntlet to Lindbergh to change it. So in 1988 he gathered supermodels-to-be Estelle Lefébure, Karen Alexander, Rachel Williams, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz and Christy Turlington on a beach in Southern California, dressed them in white shirts and made photographic history.

The women weren’t posed. They were playing around and having fun with each other — they were a group of models messing around in front of Lindbergh’s lens. The images (opening photo above, top left) were fabulous. Liberman and editor Grace Mirabella didn’t see how the magic would fit so the photos went into a drawer.

Shortly after that Vogue’s new editor, Anna Wintour found the rejects, cropped one of them and it appeared in the magazine. She hired Lindbergh to make his and her first cover photograph (opening image last one in the top row) for Vogue’s November ’88 issue.

The picture of model Michaela Bercu broke so many rules — she wore a couture jacket with low rider jeans showing her belly, her hair was blown out, she had very little makeup, and (gasp!) without any jewelry not to mention her eyes were almost closed — that the printing company called the magazine asking if they had the right image for the cover.

Pirelli calendars times three

Peter Lindbergh is the only photographer to have shot the Pirelli calendar 3 times, in 1996, 2002 and 2017. This video shows behind-the-scenes from all three.

For his last version, he photographed actors, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright, Julianne Morre, Nicole Kidman, Uma Thurman and Charlotte Rampling in his beautiful, natural, boiled-down-to-the-essentials makeup free style he evolved that revolutionized fashion photography. His idea, he says, was “to create a calendar not around perfect bodies, but on sensitivity and emotion, stripping down to the very soul of the sitters, who thus become more nude than naked.”

The central theme of each photograph was “emotional.”

Peter Lindbergh and the rise of the supermodel

Lindbergh is the man credited with discovering the supermodels. He describes the iconic 1990 cover he shot for British Vogue — of Linda, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi and Cindy — as “the birth certificate of the supermodels” (opening image second photo from left).

Lindbergh explained how his vision contributed to the birth of the supermodel. “It was a new generation, and that new generation came with a new interpretation of women,” he later said of the British Vogue cover. He added, “It was the first picture of them together as a group. I never had the idea that this was history. Never for one second. I didn’t do anything, a bit of light. It came together very naturally, effortless; you never felt you were changing the world. It was all intuition.”

Peter Lindberg hated retouching and makeup

His pursuit of revealing the actual beauty of his subjects led him to avoid retouching. “I hate retouching, I hate makeup,” he told British Vogue this year. “I always say, ‘Take the makeup off!’” He added, “The number of beautiful women who have asked me to lengthen their legs or move their eyes further apart, you would not believe. It’s a culture of madness.”

According to an article in The Guardian, magazines had to sign a contract saying that no retouching would happen on Lindbergh’s photos. He put his stance on retouching this way, “The cosmetic companies have everyone brainwashed. I don’t retouch anything. ‘Oh, but she looks tired!’ they say. So what if she looks tired? Tired and beautiful.”

Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, on Peter Lindbergh

Lindbergh’s last big project was for the cover of U.K. Vogue guest-edited by Meghan Markel. “His work is revered globally for capturing the essence of a subject,” she wrote, “and promoting healthy ideals of beauty, eschewing photoshopping, and preferring natural beauty with minimal makeup.”

He made portraits of 15 notable women including New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, climate advocate Greta Thunberg and his original muse, Christi Turlington for the issue.

Peter Lindbergh died in Paris in 2019, at the age of 74.

Sources: New York Times, The Guardian, Vogue

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