Five hours after being told by a Los Angeles art gallery that Peter Lindbergh would call « shortly, » my phone finally rang. It was worth the wait.
Lindbergh is the photographer who launched Linda Evangelista’s career and has shot countless ad campaigns for clients such as Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein and spreads for Harper’s Bazaar, Allure and for American, British, Italian and French Vogue.
No wonder then that his new book 10 Women by Peter Lindbergh (te Neues, $48.95) is so tough to put down.
10 Women features Lindbergh’s favorite photographs of Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen, Naomi Campbell, Kristen McMenamy, Kate Moss, Tatjiana Patitz, Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington and Amber Valletta.
Inside, we find a buck-naked McMenamy chilling out in the California desert, Evangelista shrouded in religious garb and Campbell in all her topless glory.
All the images are black and white save for one: Moss lying nude, except for a pair of white stiletto boots, on a bearskin rug.
« They were not supermodels when I started photographing them, » the 52-year-old, German-born Lindbergh recalls. But he was instrumental in fuelling their notoriety.
In 1988, « Alexander Liberman asked me to do a shoot for American Vogue and he said do what you want. I didn’t want to work for them because they were doing big hair and lots of makeup at the time. »
Lindbergh’s approach is « not to violate the model’s personality by transforming them with makeup and hair, but to find their personality and get that for the picture.
« I put together Linda and Naomi and Tatjiana and Christy for the first time and photographed them totally natural together wearing white shirts on the beach. When (American) Vogue got the pictures they said they couldn’t use them. This was just before (current editor) Anna Wintour came. When she did and she saw the pictures, she said, ‘I would have given you 20 pages.’ »
Liz Tilberis, now editor of Harper’s Bazaar and the person to whom Lindbergh’s book is dedicated, did recognize the power of grouping the top « girls » and ran the pictures in British Vogue.
« Now they have all become women, » Lindbergh says. « Linda has become more adult. Claudia has become more natural in her makeup and hair. And Cindy, the same thing. I remember I did a picture of Cindy in Miami where she was just out of bed and came straight to the set with no makeup. She looked really great. » Word in the fashion scene of late is that the supermodels are passé. Lindbergh not only doesn’t agree, but would rather shoot the more experienced veterans.
« There are a lot of new models but there is a place for both. It’s difficult to switch back to photographing the girls of 18 or younger. When they are 17, 16, 15, the personality is not there yet. » Personality, he says, makes the difference between a good model and a bad one.
« And you have to be really quick with your mind, really smart. Models are confronted with a lot of different situations, and it’s difficult to go to work with a whole crew of people you have never worked with before and you are the subject. You have to overcome a lot of fear. »
It’s difficult to imagine, say, Evangelista cowering before a camera, even in her early days.
He laughs. « Linda had such a will to make it to where she is now. » He describes how she learned early how to mask imperfections such as bony knees by positioning her legs to their best advantage. « She really ‘worked’ at it »
And it was Lindbergh who convinced Evangelista to first cut her hair.
« I told her I have done everything I can and I can’t do anything anymore. I sat down with her and made her a graph. I showed her what level she is at now – about 60. And I said, ‘you will stay stuck on 60 for 6 months, then the line will go down and nobody will talk about you. If you cut your hair, the line will drop a little, then it will go to 100.’ And that’s exactly what happened. »
Lindbergh says that in his 1992 documentary, Models — The Film, he asked Evangelista if she could have one wish, what would it be. « She said, with tears in her eyes, ‘When it’s all over, I hope I take it well.’ »
Not present in 10 Women, as could be expected, is Shalom Harlow, among a few others. « There was only space for two newer models and I haven’t worked so much with Shalom. I think she is fantastic. She really has something she didn’t have before. Before she was playing a role, now she has become herself. That is the greatest achievement. »