Peter Lindbergh on His Women, His New Book, and What Makes a Photograph Iconic

by Alessandra Codinha, March 2015 (United States)

Peter Lindbergh might very well be the man responsible for “the supermodel.” After all, it was his 1988 series of photographs of a small clutch of very hip but then not very well-known models—Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, and Tatjana Patitz, among them—sooty-eyed, rumple-haired, clad only in white men’s button-downs as they cavorted on the beach for Vogue, that lit that particular spark, one in which the viewer began to connect ~~with these~~ impossibly glamorous creatures, to fixate, to fascinate, and to dream on them. >[LINDBERGH's] work has been synonymous with a certain feeling, a palpable tenderness. Even before then, and since, his work has been synonymous with a certain feeling, a palpable tenderness in the manner in which he treats his subjects, not as “girls” (as is so often used in fashion parlance) or as clothes hangers or as another object in the frame, but as women, with all of the inner life and mystery that the word implies. Not that he’d admit it. “I don’t see the difference between a girl and a woman, really,” Lindbergh says, surveying a series of portraits from his latest tome, 'Images of Women II: 2005–2014'. There, in his now-trademark rich monochrome, is a reflective Diane von Furstenberg, an androgynous Lara Stone, a coquettish Kate Moss, Natalia Vodianova, Mariacarla Boscono, Uma Thurman, Tilda Swinton, Charlotte Rampling, all caught in a moment of shared intimacy—as good a cross-section as ~~any of the~~ photographer’s breadth of influence and inspiration. “I’ve been shooting her for nearly 38 years, maybe,” Lindbergh says of Rampling, “and all of the adjectives that I would use to describe her are really unbelievable. You cannot imagine anybody more beautiful—” Here, the photographer stops himself. “Probably ‘different,’ no? You cannot say that one woman is ‘more beautiful’ than another, though people always do. It’s so ridiculous to say that?” It is not a traditionally commercial, airbrushed, poreless veneer that attracts him, not by a long shot. “[Rampling] turned from the most breathtaking young beauty into kind of a grandmother, really. That’s a picture of a grandmother,” Lindbergh says, and the actress used the photograph for the promotional materials for her 2011 documentary self-portrait 'The Look', in which Lindbergh played a prominent role. “And that word already, people say, you know, ‘Oh, Peter, she’s not a grandmother, don’t say that,’ but I mean, grandmother is nothing bad. This is one of the last pictures we did together, and look how she looks. That is just amazing. Nobody can look like that when they’re 25 years old.” >It is not about the next big thing, the newest fresh face, or fashionable favorite, but of conveying the feeling of knowing someone, and of being known. There is an undeniable personal nature to Lindbergh’s ~~photography—his~~ focus on the eyes of his subjects, on their energy, the way in which women blossom under his lens—that reaches for a kind of beauty that exists beyond the surface. It is not about the next big thing, the newest fresh face, or fashionable favorite (though that often happens, too), but of conveying the feeling of knowing someone, and of being known. “What do you photograph, after all?” Lindbergh asks. “You look for honesty, and it strikes you, and then you start to have feelings about that person that you photograph, and that might sound strange, but then that feeling about that person leads them to feel that you understand her; she gives you a bit more than she might give other people. I like that honesty, that moment, the way that you look at me and the way I look at you, and that then there’s something kooky in between these two people. That feeling, that giving and taking, that is what you photograph. It’s not one person documenting another person, it’s a photograph of that relationship you have in that moment. You become another person, a little bit; you become that person that you feel that you are at that moment, and it makes you beautiful, or different, ~~and that’s~~ what’s on the film. And tomorrow you’ll be a totally different person, because tomorrow is another moment. It took 40 years before I understood that.” Not that he’s done looking, or learning, for that matter. “There’s something else that makes a woman interesting, something beyond being young, or being old,” Lindbergh says, breaking into his quick, warm laugh. “And I’m going to find out what that something else is before I die, I hope.”