Peter Lindbergh, the poet of imperfection | The weekly country


He was one of the great fashion photographers of his time, although fashion didn’t care. In any case, the clothes always counted less than the person in front of him. Peter Lindbergh preferred to look at what each of his models was hiding under the facade. He died in September 2019, at the age of 74. Before, he had time to change fashion photography forever (and, surely, just plain fashion too). Opposed to the retouching dictatorship, Lindbergh called the prevailing canon of beauty scandalous. Its rugged black and white, with an almost documentary texture and indisputable expressionist inspiration, brought an iota of subversion to a world ruled by ostentatious luxury and hysterical smiles. The bodies he photographed were still normative, but Lindbergh displayed them without makeup or artifice, wrapped in a simple white shirt. In an age in search of healthier and more inclusive beauty models, her legacy shines brighter than ever. That was his particular dissent.

Lindbergh’s work is now vindicated by a great retrospective in A Coruña, the only Spanish stage of his posthumous project Untold Stories, that has been seen in recent months in different German and Italian cities. The exhibition will cover, from December 4 to February 28, 2022, a set of 150 images selected by Lindbergh himself, who spent two years rummaging through his archives, at the suggestion of the Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, until he found the perfect balance between images iconic – those that starred the supermodels of the nineties – and others unknown and even unpublished. The exhibition, which will occupy an old industrial hangar on the Bateria dock, in the port of A Coruña, is the result of the personal commitment of Marta Ortega, the Inditex heir, who maintained a friendly relationship with Lindbergh during her last years of life. In the photographer’s images, the daughter of Amancio Ortega, who oversees the women’s collections and the development of Zara as a global brand, among other things, discovered something that was close to her, a natural and somewhat crude aesthetic that suited her way of understanding fashion. After coinciding during a scorching summer in the French city of Arles, where Lindbergh spent part of the year drinking pastis under the siege of mosquitoes, Marta Ortega proposed to take the photos of her wedding in 2018, fascinated by “the eternal aura” with the that Lindbergh endowed those who submitted to his gaze.

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Negatives of one of Peter Lindbergh's mythical photographs of the supermodels of the nineties.
Negatives of one of Peter Lindbergh’s mythical photographs of the supermodels of the nineties.Ed Alcock

“I remember its natural and immediate connection with the environment, with Galicia and with A Coruña. Peter was a genius as a photographer, but as a person he was a stratospheric, caring, patient human being. The closeness to work is reflected in the result. You have to feel comfortable in such an intimate and special moment for yourself and your family ”, Ortega explains in an email, breaking with his legendary discretion and media fasting. “Peter Lindbergh’s gaze is very deep and puts people ahead. Particularly a strong woman, who is in control of her life. As he himself said, he tried to free woman from the tyranny of perfection. That is his differentiating element and what makes his work so relevant and lasting ”, he adds. If your photography endures, it is also because it is not linked to an ephemeral trend, but to timeless beauty. “For me, there is nothing more modern than his way of treating fashion. Peter was above any frivolity or flourish, because he knew how to see what really matters, “says Ortega, who places him in a super league of great names in the discipline, at the same level as Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton or Irving Penn. His favorite image will also be on display: a frame that Lindbergh made in 1990 for Vogue Italy in which model Helena Christensen walks with an alien child through the Californian desert.

Original development of one of Lindbergh's photos from the nineties.
Original development of one of Lindbergh’s photos from the nineties. Ed Alcock

Last summer, Zara already launched a collection of T-shirts and sweatshirts with immortal snapshots of the photographer with the faces of Linda Evangelista or Amber Valletta. Behind the operation were Ortega and Benjamin Lindbergh, the eldest of the photographer’s four children, who has run his studio in Paris since 2016, a ground floor located in an alley in Saint-Michel next to the Seine. Two years after his death, this 40-year-old man continues to speak of his father in the present tense, as if he were still among the living. “It’s still a bit fuzzy in my head,” he says with a kind, toothy smile, almost identical to his father’s. He began working with Lindbergh as an assistant in his late teens. “I told him that I was going to take a year off to travel the world. He replied that he thought it was an excellent idea. ‘And how do you plan to pay for it?’ It hadn’t even crossed my mind that he didn’t pay for the whim… ”, he recalls. “Peter was born into a poor family. It was against his ideals for us to live as spoiled children. He gave us a taste for the effort and I thank him, because it was a great lesson in life, ”says Benjamin, at the head of the foundation that spreads and protects his father’s legacy.

Boxes with negatives.
Boxes with negatives.Ed Alcock

Actually, Lindbergh didn’t always like being associated with his trade colleagues. “Most fashion photographers are complete idiots, with three or four exceptions. That is why sometimes I do not like that they hang that label on me, because I do not want to have anything to do with them, “he confessed, only half jokingly, during an interview in a Parisian hotel in 2013.” I did not have any problem with fashion, which is what he fed her, but with some stereotypes linked to it. In his photographic sessions he worked in a relaxed and harmonious way, without absurd hierarchies. In a world like fashion, so dominated by the ego, it was very surprising ”, clarifies his son. If Lindbergh became the darling of the supermodels, it may have been because he treated them with unusual respect, as if they were co-producers of the resulting work and not as mere cattle.

Benjamin Lindbergh, son of the photographer and head of his studio since 2016, in his archive.
Benjamin Lindbergh, son of the photographer and head of his studio since 2016, in his archive.Ed Alcock

“Well, here I am, in Deauville. 17 years. Naked A string of bracelets on each arm. It’s freezing. It does not stop raining. But I am enjoying every minute. Because it is Peter and I know that I am safe ”, remembers Naomi Campbell in the book Raw Beauty, which is published coinciding with the exhibition and which includes the testimonies of Kate Moss – “he was a huge, smiling and adorable bear”, he maintains -, of his friend and colleague Paolo Roversi, of his gallery owner Larry Gagosian or of one of the many stars whom he portrayed, like Penelope Cruz. “Peter really knew how to photograph a woman. He always managed to capture the character of the person in front of the camera. There is nothing imposed, and that was what he was looking for in his photos, “says the actress in the book. Rosalía, one of the last to pose for him, remembers making him remove his manicure. “I had my doubts. Until I saw the photos. That’s where I understood. They have an eternal, mythical aura, and at the same time they give off a tremendous freshness, “he says in the book. “The poet of the imperfect” is supported by the artist Michael Benson, in which it is perhaps the most accurate definition.

Olya Ivanisevic and Romina Lanaro, in an image taken by Lindbergh in Los Angeles in 2006.
Olya Ivanisevic and Romina Lanaro, in an image taken by Lindbergh in Los Angeles in 2006.Peter Lindbergh (Peter Lindberg Foundation Paris)

Actually, Lindbergh came from somewhere else. His models were Brassaï, August Sander, André Kertész, Diane Arbus or the Bechers, who spent half their lives photographing industrial buildings with the rigor of an entomologist. He liked wild and rocky nature. Fritz Lang’s films. Take photos of windswept northern beaches and deserts with no oases in sight, rusted train tracks and disused factories. His imagination was that of postwar Germany, having been born in annexed Poland in 1944, before moving to Duisburg, the German capital of the steel industry, when he was still a baby. “The image that seemed most beautiful to him in the world was a naked tree,” recalls the Argentine designer and photographer Juan Gatti, one of his closest friends. They met in 1986, when he was Loewe’s art director and hired Lindbergh for a campaign, four years before his rise to stardom from Anna Wintour, who offered him his first cover on the Vogue American, a true turning point towards minimalism that would prevail in the early nineties. “We understood each other immediately. Until the poor man died, we did everything together: eight books, three exhibitions, two Pirelli calendars, vacations, and a few divorces. I feel a great emptiness, because it was my longest and most intimate relationship, ”says Gatti, who describes herself, sarcastically, as“ Lindbergh’s widow ”.

A contact sheet of Lindbergh images.
A contact sheet of Lindbergh images.Ed Alcock

The photographer was a sober and sophisticated man. “He was like a peasant, but also a very refined man. In his images there is as much austerity as elegance ”, says Gatti. In 2002, they made together the poster of Talk to her, scored by Pedro Almodóvar. Gatti worked with both and believed that they would understand each other perfectly, despite their apparent aesthetic discrepancies. It was the only time he allowed his photos to be colored. Gatti suspects that the source of his artistic language was his youth. “Deep down, the women in his portraits resemble those of their puberty. Marlene Dietrich is everywhere. I would say that Peter managed to relive, through photography, many of his sexual fantasies of his youth ”, he says. On Untold Stories, the book that is published alongside the exhibition, Wim Wenders says goodbye to his friend with a poem that he declaimed at his funeral, in the Saint-Sulpice church in Paris. His verses praised the dignity that Lindbergh conferred on each and every one of his models. It read like this: “In the happiness of your gaze and in front of your camera, / people were not only beautiful, / not only supermodels, not only icons, / but women. And sometimes men ”.

Milla Jovovich, photographed by Peter Lindbergh in Paris in 1998.
Milla Jovovich, photographed by Peter Lindbergh in Paris in 1998.Peter Lindbergh (Peter Lindberg Foundation Paris)


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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