Peter Lindbergh; who avoided all stereotypes in fashion photography

Lindbergh was a German fashion photographer and a film director. He is known as the most influential contemporary photographer and how he played a key role in beginning of era of ‘supermodels’. His images have often been named timeless, raw and is always appreciated for how he conveyed, in his work, his humanistic approach for women.

He was born on 23 November 1944 in Lissa (Leszno), Reichsgau Wartheland, German-occupied Poland and spent his childhood in Duisburg. He worked as a window dresser for the Karstadt and Horten department stores in Duisburg when he was a teenager. The vast beaches and the industrial settings of his hometown Duisburg is known to have influenced his work strongly over the years. In the early 1960s, he moved to Berlin where he enrolled in the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts. Following the footsteps of his idol was Vincent van Gogh, he hitch-hiked to Arles and Lindbergh recalled these years: “I preferred actively seeking out van Gogh’s inspirations, my idol, rather than painting the mandatory portraits and landscapes taught in art schools.” Later, after returning back to Germany, he studied abstract art at the Kunsthochchule (College of Art) in Krefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia. In 1969, he was invited before graduating, to present his work at the avant-garde Galerie Denise René. These works were exhibited in the Objets ludiques exhibition at the Tinguely Museum in Basel in 2014. It was in 1971 that he turned his attention to photography.
Before opening his own studio in 1973, Lindbergh worked for two years assisting German photographer Hans Lux. He became well known in his native country and then worked for the Stern magazine. In 1978, he moved to Paris to pursue his career. Since then, he had a career in fashion photography for more than four decades and became one of the best known names in the industry. Lindbergh divorced his first wife Astrid and later married Petra Sedlaczek. Lindbergh had four sons, Benjamin, Jérémy, Simon, Joseph and seven grandchildren. He died on 3 September 2019 in Paris, at age 74. His death was announced on his official Instagram account and no cause was given.

Lindbergh had a preference in black and white photography. For this, in an interview with art historian Charlotte Cotton in 2008, Lindbergh gave an explanation saying; “Using black-and-white photography was really important to creating the supermodel. Every time I tried to shoot them in color, because their beauty was close to perfection, it ended up looking like a bad cosmetics advert. With black and white, you can really see who they are. It toned down the commercial interpretation that color gives. What’s so striking about black and white is how it reall helps a sense of reality to come through.”

In 1989, the young models then, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Cindy Crawford, and Christy Turlington were photographed together for the first time by Lindbergh for the  January 1990 British Vogue cover. This has been famously credited to have let to the start of an era of supermodels. Later in an interview with Tamsin Blanchard of The Guardian, in 2016 he said, “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.” His cover also inspired singer George Michael to cast the models in the video of his song “Freedom ’90”. Two years prior to 1990 British Vogue cover, Lindbergh photographed a new generation of models that he had recently discovered and launched their careers. In 1988, Linda Evangelista, Estelle Lefébure, Karen Alexander, Rachel Williams, Tatjana Patitz and Christy garnered international acclaim. Lindbergh’s work has been presented at international exhibitions. He also published books and his first book, 10 Women (1996) had sold more than 100,000 copies as of 2008. He also directed a number of films and documentaries including Models, The Film (1991) and Everywhere at Once (2008). Among his notable works, he is also known for making covers for music including Sheryl Crow’s The Globe Sessions and Beyoncé’s I Am… Sasha Fierce. In 2014, he was honored for his longtime contributions to AIDS awareness at the annual amfAR New York Gala at Cipriani Wall Street. That same year, he noted; “This should be the responsibility of photographers today to free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection.” Peter Lindbergh was also famous for never agreeing with retouching and he always preferred minimal makeup for his photography. He promoted natural beauty and enhanced authenticity in his work. In 2016, Lindbergh said, "A fashion photographer should contribute to defining the image of the contemporary woman or man in their time, to reflect a certain social or human reality. How surrealistic is today’s commercial agenda to retouch all signs of life and of experience, to retouch the very personal truth of the face itself?”

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