Fashion's photographer exposed

by Chen Nan, April 2011

Peter Lindbergh's solo exhibition The Unknown, at 798 Art Zone, reveals the art and craft of the lensman with an almost 40-year back catalog. Peter Lindbergh has spent the past nearly four decades making his own rules as a fashion photographer. Now he is in China for the opening of his first solo exhibition here, The Unknown, at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing's 798 Art Zone. About 1,000 trendy youngsters sit with photography major students and fashion insiders to hear a speech from Lindbergh that opens the exhibition. Lindbergh is credited with helping create the supermodel phenomenon of the 1980s - Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford - and his photos have been published in Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and The New Yorker. As he walks into the meeting hall, dressed in a deep green shirt and vintage jeans, he holds his camera and takes random pictures of the audience. "I am very happy to have my first exhibition here in Beijing, in China. I feel like a new person," he says greeting the audience. This exhibition, the German photographer says, explores the unpredictable and the unknown, hence its name. ~~Entering the corridor~~ to the exhibition, viewers are introduced to anthropomorphic shadows on the walls, which are studio shots. The room next to the corridor has gigantic portrait posters, in a cinematographic setting, to give a sense of Hollywood glamour. "It's the first time I've had the opportunity to exhibit my pictures like film posters rather than separate photos hanging on the walls," he says. "It seems like each photo is connected, though not in chronological order." Jerome Sans, UCCA director and curator of the exhibition, invited Lindbergh to China a year ago. >The Unknown takes a step beyond Lindbergh's recent cinematic series Invasion, a flash of everyday reality filled with enigmas, unpredictable events and risk, according to Jerome Sans' introduction. For Lindbergh, The Unknown means unlimited possibilities when it comes to his photographs and this has been the driving force of his creativity all these years. "Creativity is the basis of self-expression. When I create a photo, the structure, the light and the face of the model, terrified, joyful or amused, comes from an idea, from a feeling, an emotion in that moment. "All those are unknown until I take up the camera and shoot. But I am curious about that process and anxious to see it, which gives me a strong desire to create," he says. Having visited China 30 years ago, Lindbergh comments, "everything has been changed totally" and "each individual, especially the young generation, has his or her personal style". "I have been living in 798 Art Zone since I came and I am eager to go out and see more of the city and the country," he says. Besides the exhibition, Lindbergh had another task for his China trip, taking pictures for Vogue China about Beijing's story, in 40 pages. Before that, he took photos of Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson for Vogue China, in the magazine's April 2011 issue. The photo shows ~~off the blonde~~ beauty in various sultry poses on a table. The star wears a white, frilly dress in one photo and black lingerie in another. "I love black and white. Too much color is boring to me," he says. When asked about his photographs of female stars, he says the faces of Chinese models are more interesting to him now. "I have worked with many Chinese supermodels, such as Du Juan. Maggie Cheung is a good friend of mine. They have a different charm in front of the camera, which is alluring for me to explore," he says. Lindbergh studied art in Berlin, but began his photography career almost by accident. "Someone I knew needed an assistant. But I could have easily been a baker or worked in a flower shop," he recalls. In 1973, he started shooting monochromatic advertising campaigns. Today his imagery is instantly recognizable, from fashion magazines, and ads for Dior, Giorgio Armani, and Prada. His exhibitions have been held worldwide and he has published five books. He says that when arriving in New York from his home in Paris, he drives past his portraits of Kate Moss or other supermodels on billboards."I am glad that the models are themselves rather than an image produced by me," he says. "I don't feel like a fashion person. I have four children and a life."