Photo poet of anti-glamour
by Edgar Allen Beem, 2003
As one of the worlds preeminent fashion photographers, Peter Lindbergh, 58, divides his time between his home and studio in Paris and a hotel suite in New York City. When we tracked him down in New York by phone in October, Lindbergh had just finished shooting pop star Jennifer Lopez for the cover of Harper’s Bazaar and was preparing to direct more of the Gap television commercials he has been making with musicians such as Willie Nelson, Marianne Faithful and Jacob Dylan.
>In one shoot, the photographer is credited with helping to create the supermodel phenomenon of the 1990s.
The occasion for our conversation, however, was the fall publication of Peter Lindbergh: Stories (Arena Editions, Santa Fe, New Mexico, $75), a new collection of 48 of Lindbergh’s narrative fashion shoots. Lindbergh’s Stories are mute little mini-dramas shot primarily in black and white and seen most often in the pages of Italian Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. His thematic sequences have the disjointed internal logic of music videos and the melodramatic look of old movie stills. German filmmaker ~~Wim Wenders~~ wrote the introduction to Stories.
«To tell a story is a help,» says Lindbergh of his preference for narratives. «For Italian Vogue, an editorial assignment might run 30 pages, no? When you have an idea, a narrative concept, it’s very easy to fill 30 pages up. Every picture has a reason. But when I have to just photograph fashion, I don’t know what to do after ten pages.»
>There was even a time early on in his career when Lindbergh apologized for being a fashion photographer, but he has since come to understand the difference between fashion and glamour.
Peter Lindbergh grew up in Germany’s heavily industrialized Ruhr Valley and studied painting in art school. He first picked up a camera in 1971 and for the next two years apprenticed himself to photographer Hans Lux. After establishing himself as an advertising photographer in Germany, Lindbergh moved to Paris in 1978 to concentrate on high-fashion work. As the first to photograph Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Tatjana Patitz and ~~Christy Turlington~~ in one shoot, the photographer is credited with helping to create the supermodel phenomenon of the 1990s.
Lindbergh has also been called «the poet of glamour», yet for a photographer who has spent most of his career shooting supermodels and celebrities wearing overpriced designer clothes, he is remarkably dismissive of traditional notions of glamour. «Glamour in the real sense of the word,» Lindbergh said, «being a celebrity, having lots of money, flashy cars, great clothes, is more or less everything I really hate. I do something really rude to glamour.»
Lindbergh related how he had once attended a party with his brother Horst, a psychoanalyst in Germany, and several of his brother’s professional colleagues. When asked what he did, Lindbergh replied, «I know it sounds silly, but I’m a fashion photographer.»
>While fashion usually expresses a longing for status and a place in high society, in contrast, Lindbergh’s stories tends to offer a kind of pulp-fiction vision.
«I downgraded myself in a circle like that,» Lindbergh said. «Then my brother’s teacher said, ‘You’re totally nuts. You have no idea how important fashion is. If fashion did not exist, a lot of people would have no way to express themselves, to assure themselves, to belong to a group, to have an identity.»
While fashion usually expresses a longing for status and a place in high society, in contrast, Lindbergh’s stories tends to offer a kind of pulp-fiction vision in which clothes come in a distant second to concept, character and setting. Many of his best «stories» – Teddy Boys, White Trash, Gun Story, UFO Crash – appear to come straight out of the tabloids and appear most frequently in Italian Vogue because the magazine, being more interested in photographs than in fashion, gives Lindbergh the most artistic freedom.
«White Trash» shot in El Mirage, California, in November 2001, tells the story of a small-town girl who leaves her daughter with her family in the desert while she goes off to Hollywood to become a star. «I love desolate America» Lindbergh said of that shoot.
«Gun Story» shot in ~~Los Angeles~~ in May 2000, came about when Lindbergh found himself with an extra day on a shoot and someone discovered a pistol in an old car used for the shoot. «I said, ‘Let’s do something with the gun.’ The editor hated the idea. She said she hated guns. I hate guns, too, but it seemed like a real story.»
«Gun Story,» like many of Lindbergh’s stories, features model Milla Jovovich, who has been Lindbergh’s muse since she was 13 years old. The sequence of Jovovich as a gun moll in an old Camaro on the outskirts of L.A. has a film noir look that is pure Lindbergh. «Milla’s one of the most creative human beings I know,» Lindbergh said.
>Lindbergh’s own style is an inspired aesthetic of cheap chic that even he struggles to explain.
Some of Peter Lindbergh’s Parisian stories pay homage to the street photography of Brassai and Robert Doisneau, but Lindbergh’s own style is an inspired esthetic of cheap chic that even he struggles to explain. «The most important thing is that you have an identity within you that controls everything you do,» Lindbergh said. «I always know exactly what I like, but I cannot explain why. It’s like choosing a woman for yourself. I wouldn’t fall in love with a woman with big hair, a fur coat and high heels.»