He is Tina Turner’s favorite photographer. Donna Karan calls him “part of the family” and super model Nadja Auermann asserts that “he always makes you feel like you’re the most beautiful woman in the world.” Ever since Peter Lindbergh took up fashion photography in the late1970s, he has had an immense impact not only on the genre, but on fashion itself.
He has worked for all the top magazines, from Vogue and Marie Claire to Harper’s Bazaar and Interview. He has shot ad campaigns for a plethora of leading designers, such as Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Jil Sander, and is even credited with giving Linda Evangelista’s career a second breath of life by persuading her to cut her hair.
Now, a retrospective of his career is being published in the form of a book. The 280-page “Images of Women” is quite simply stunning and reveals every ounce of Lindbergh’s genius. According to Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo, “What is strong about Peter’s work is the humanity inherent in his photographs. What you notice is not just the models and the clothes, but the strength of the people themselves.”
Realistic, grainy, black and white images are generally what spring to mind when Lindbergh’s name is mentioned. Yet, Lindbergh disputes the idea that he has a signature style – though he does admit that, in his photos, “the woman is always more important than the clothes.” He generally chooses bleak locations, insists that hair and makeup be unfussy and that his subjects look extremely natural. “He is a stylist’s nightmare,” claims Tina Turner. “He likes natural and simple clothes, and when stylists bring along racks and racks of high fashion clothes, he always asks if they have brought a white shirt and jeans.”
The only photo of Turner in the book is one of her legs. There is also a wonderful photo of Nastassia Kinski’s torso, and there are celebrity shots of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, Antonio Banderas and Joaquin Cortes. However, most of the images are of the handful of models from whom his career is indissociable: Amber Valletta as a Marlene Dietrich look-alike, Naomi Campbell clowning around as a modern-day Josephine Baker, Linda Evangelista flying through the air in a grimy Manhattan street. There are also perhaps his most famous images, taken on the beaches of northern France and in industrial locations, such as factories.
Both settings recall his childhood in Germany’s Ruhr valley. He was born in 1944 in what would become East Germany, but was brought up in the west, on his uncle’s sheep farm overlooking the industrial and mining town of Duisburg. Family holidays were spent on the windswept beaches of Holland. He claims the did not know what photography was as a child, and he did not pick up a camera until the age of 27. Then, he slipped into the profession more or less by accident. “A photographer’s assistant place came up through a friend,” he remembers. “If there had been another job, I would have become something else.”
Within a few years Lindbergh was Germany’s highest paid advertising photographer, and in 1978 he was asked to do his first fashion photos. In the early ’80s, the Comme des Garçons campaigns he shot placed him firmly at the top of his profession. If he is still there, it is due not only to his talent but also in large part to his commitment and personality. Indeed, Lindbergh seems to have little time for anything but work. He says he goes to the cinema only about twice a year. When asked if he does any sports, he replies: “No. Nothing. I don’t do anything.”
If he ever did decide to take time out, he would most surely be sorely missed by those in the fashion world. “There is nobody, and I mean nobody, who is better to work with than Peter,” says Donna Karan. “He’s warm, he’s caring, he’s funny. He really loves people and he really loves what he does.”
On meeting him, what is most striking is that he seems completely devoid of ego problems – a quality not generally associated with the fashion world. “He’s very zen and balanced,” asserts Nadja Auermann. “He’s never angry, never nervous. He never speaks to anybody in a bad tone, even in a difficult situation.”
Things are also made easy by Lindbergh’s famous adaptability. For last year’s Donna Karan shoot with Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, he had to work in three different locations – an airplane hangar in Los Angeles, the set of “G.I. Jane” in Florida and the Willis’ garage in Idaho – on consecutive days. When Italian Vogue decided it could not afford to pay for a set-up he wanted to do involving a love story between a model and an extraterrestrial, Lindbergh put up the £5,000 to create the Martian suit himself.
The resulting pictures are Lindbergh’s favorites, and he plans to include them in a book of his 10 best stories. As for his best pictures, however, he feels that they are still ahead of him. “I have no idea how they are going to look or however they are going to be,” he says, “but you always feel that everything could be better.” Looking at “Images of Women,” you wonder just how!