by Susie Rushton, November 2017 (United Kingdom)
PETER LINDBERGH IS THE 72-YEAR-OLD PHOTOGRAPHER THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS WOMEN TRUST TO MAKE THEM LOOK NATURAL. AS HE RELEASES A NEW BOOK, SUSIE RUSHTON MEETS HIM AT HOME IN PARIS
This is the photographer Peter Lindbergh on the 14 Hollywood stars in his latest book: “I mean, beautiful. Very complicated, zero tolerance for bullshit, no?” (Rooney Mara). “Knows everything” (Nicole Kidman). “Very outspoken” (Kate Winslet). “Incredible talent, incredibly beautiful” (Jessica Chastain). “I was so impatient to start shooting her — she looked so beautiful” (Alicia Vikander); “Ahhh, Uma” (you guessed it).
In his private office, near Notre-Dame in Paris, a double-height apartment ~~hung~~ with framed prints of his own fashion photography, Lindbergh delivers these verdicts with such affection that you see famous faces afresh. “All these actresses, they’re like one person for me. There’s not one that’s different,” he says, caressing the list of names on the opening page with one hand.
Those women were the stars of the 2017 Pirelli calendar, the mega-budget publishing event that has all but obliterated its old cheesecake image. For 2018, Tim Walker has shot a fantasia of black models, actresses and performers as Alice in Wonderland characters, while in 2016 Annie Leibovitz also put talent firmly over titillation.
But Lindbergh, 72 and still rebellious, believes that the mission of his calendar is as urgent today as it was 12 months ago when he shot it: to free women from the artifice of airbrushing. To this end, he has just published hundreds of unseen pictures in a huge book for Taschen, with pores, fine lines, freckles and under-eye shadows unexpurgated.
>“It’s not that I care about being truthful, it’s the only thing I’m interested in.”
A friendly bear of a man, dressed in a black T-shirt and beige slacks, a ~~pair~~ of round specs on the end of his nose, Lindbergh speaks with German intonations that hint at a wry sense of humour. His likeability has played a part in his long-running success — more than three decades now — and everybody wants to sit for him. Are some people afraid of looking too real in his pictures? “No! Then they wouldn’t even come,” he says with a guffaw. “It’s really funny, because sometimes they’ll whisper to me, while we’re shooting, ‘Can you do a little retouching?’ I don’t say no. I say, ‘Ah, we’ll see, we’ll see.’”
Meghan Markle, whom he recently shot for a Vanity Fair cover, declared herself thrilled that Lindbergh didn’t airbrush her freckles. She was also relieved to arrive on set and experience his easygoing approach. “Yeah, she was really happy when she gured out what she was getting,” he says, “because it must be so terrible to be photographed everywhere you go. All that baggage — Harry’s new girlfriend and all that stuff.” He lets out a sigh of sympathy.
Does he care about his photography being truthful? Not all photographers would say so. “It’s not that I care about being truthful,” he corrects me, “it’s the only thing I’m interested in.” Does he do any post-production on his photographs? “Yes, we have one retoucher here, but you always clean up a little bit,” he says, pointing at a vast framed print of his most famous picture, which hangs on the opposite wall. The group shot of Naomi, Christy, Linda, Tatjana and Cindy that appeared on the cover of British Vogue in 1990 is what Lindbergh calls “the birth certificate of the supermodels”.
“That picture, it was retouched a little bit here, a little there. But with ~~Photoshop~~ now, you would transform the whole thing. Today people would look at that picture and say, ‘Ooh, Cindy’s hair, let’s stretch it a little bit. Don’t you think Tatjana is standing too close to Christy? And Naomi’s eyes, shouldn’t they be much closer together?’ That’s the way they talk about pictures now. I want to shoot those guys. It’s crazy.”
Raised in Duisburg, in northern Germany, Lindbergh originally wanted to be a window dresser. Then he went to art school and learnt to paint. It was when he picked up a camera that he found his metier. Some of the biggest names in fashion photography are shape-shifters: Steven Meisel, Craig McDean. Others, like Lindbergh, have a consistent style, and there are career-long recurring themes to his work that anyone who has picked up a copy of American Vogue over the past generation will recognise: women gaze frankly at his camera, wearing little make-up; their hair is windswept, slightly undone; industrial decay or deserts or New York street corners are the backdrops.
For a photographer whose style defined ad campaigns for Armani, Comme des Garçons and Calvin Klein, clothing is surprisingly incidental. His black-and-white pictures, influenced by the work of the Depression-era documentary photographer Dorothea Lange and the street photographer Garry Winogrand, always strive for a sense of reality. “I loved all those pictures a lot. The world’s black and white, and it’s real. It was less expensive than colour to print. So black and white is a bit like the underdog, no?” He thinks that his preference for “undone” hair and minimal make-up, and his rejection of retouching, is all part of his ~~identification~~ with the underdog. Yet he has earned a place in the fashion establishment, not least for the part he played in creating the supermodels.
Does he think there will be another supermodel moment? “No,” he says. “Back then , in Vogue, everything had to be the great Fifth Avenue apartment, the beautiful handbag, the expensive car. You didn’t have freedom. That was the whole idea with the supermodels, to change that.” Lindbergh’s era-defining images had them bare-faced, in jeans or white shirts, a critique of the hard glamour of the late 1980s. “Now, you can do everything anyway, so there’s no reason,” he says. What does he think of the Instagram models, with their success based on numbers of followers? He looks blank: “Yes, well that’s the dark side to democracy.”
>“What makes a picture is the space between the two of you."
Lindbergh is still shooting for magazines, but demands also come from book publishers and museums — he is represented by the Gagosian gallery — so dozens of projects are vying for his attention at any one time. He says he only sleeps three hours a night (against the advice of his ayurvedic doctor, Uli), kept awake by ideas for shoots and layouts. His double-bed-sized coffee table, and all of the desk space, every surface, in fact, is stacked with prints of monochrome shoots, all stuck with his handwritten notes (“Contains iconic pictures,” reads one). “It comes in, and it piles up! Then you can’t find anything any more,” he says.
Is there anything coincidentally poignant in a book ~~that~~ seeks to portray the “reality” of 14 Hollywood actresses, following the sexual- harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein? He says not. “I think that exists everywhere, no? It’s not just Hollywood, it’s the guy in the office with the new secretary.” Which queasily raises the question of on-set harassment at fashion shoots. “I can promise you I was never like that,” he says. “That is what I always hated! I never saw women like that, not like they were mine or something.”
>In the relationship between sitter and photographer, trust is even more important than the truth.
Quite the opposite. Lindbergh’s photographs have a sense of intimacy, of a truthful likeness of the subject, partly through the amiable relationships he maintains with his sitters, allowing them to relax and be less conscious of the photographer. It was only recently that he realised how helpful it is for the subject to trust the person holding the camera. He tells me how the experience of having one of his sons photograph him was a revelation (Lindbergh has four sons, three of whom are photographers — the fourth is a photographic studio director). “What makes a picture is the space between the two of you. It goes on, like a layer, over the face. ~~When~~ my son photographed me — I mean, I love him so much, he’s my son! — I felt so good about it. And the picture was wonderful. I was really shocked by that experience. Knowing how it feels on the other side, it was amazing.”
‘Peter Lindbergh: Shadows on the Wall’ (TASCHEN £79.99) is out now.