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Remembering Peter Lindbergh

Samar Jodha pens a heartfelt tribute to Peter Lindbergh, the eminent photographer and visionary, who broke all convention and set his own standards.

by Samar JodhaPublished on : Sep 14, 2019

"a cry against the terror of perfection and youth"
Peter Lindbergh, Photographer and Film Director  
(November 23, 1944 – September 03, 2019)

The times we live in, surrounded by this digital space, it’s extremely difficult to get away from visual noise. I speak particularly about photography, and more specifically about world of fashion photography.

Today, as a fashion photographer, even if your heart does not desire, you will still be the victim of clients, designers, media planners or market trends, where it is all about that perfect face, skin, body structure or even the shape of the eyebrows; because the business of fashion and beauty is all about aspiration and how to convert more normal (masses) into that perfectly shaped model one sees on billboards or in those countless glossies, and buy into the vain world of ‘shiny happy people’.

The narrative or projection of all these beautiful people (and we are talking about professional models, which our normal world is not made up of) comes to the photographer, who has the ability to create wonders with his or her understanding of a client’s needs and the tools of making that perfect image.

However, seldom comes along an individual who stands with his or her principals of ‘no retouching’, ‘no manipulation’, ‘no nips and tucks’ to the image.

Peter Lindbergh 2015 | Peter Lindbergh | Samar Jodha | STIR
Peter Lindbergh (2015) Image Credit: Fanzineredwiki; Courtesy of Creative Commons

Peter Lindbergh, the Polish-born German photographer and film director, who passed away on September 3, 2019, was one of those rare photographers known for his memorable cinematic images. In the world of fashion and beauty, Lindbergh was recognised as one of the most influential contemporary photographers.

He was a true professional, who believed that the final image needs to be made on the floor of the photo studio (or the location) and not on a digital retouching screen, with a battery of specialised retouching surgeons.

In a career spanning over 40 years, he not only made some outstanding images, but also coined the term ‘supermodel’. Models who were not just extraordinary in their looks, but those that he made larger-than-life, in the real world - be it Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and many others, who became icons in world of fashion, beauty and much, much more.

Beyond his campaigns for fashion brands, rock stars, Pirelli calendars, editorial commissions spread through Vogue, Elle, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Allure, Rolling Stone and dozens of other fashion publications, his works have also been shown in museums such as the Victoria and Albert, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; The Metropolitan, New York; and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid among many others.

Today, fashion photography unfortunately suffers from a lack of shelf space or recall value for that matter. Partly to blame is the quick turnaround or lack of attention to space in the world. This also reflects on how one approaches or educates oneself in this profession. Many a times photographers get caught up in the technicality (lighting, set building), casting (stylists, models etc) or exotic sets (locations from Tahiti to the Serengeti plains) with a complete lacking of the actual narrative.

And in contrast to all this, Lindbergh was one of the first photographers to ever incorporate storylines into his approach to fashion shoots.

While folks say commercial photography comes from education in photo schools or looking at other photographer’ work, I believe very few are inspired from the non-photo world, a world of poetry, cinema, philosophy, literature, travels, or even celebrating beauty through arts. Lindbergh was one such photographer where not only did he enroll in art schools but also derived inspiration from classical painters.

As a student, he hitchhiked to Arles, following in the footsteps of his idol, Vincent van Gogh. Lindbergh recalled those years: "I preferred actively seeking out van Gogh’s inspirations, my idol, rather than painting the mandatory portraits and landscapes taught in art schools."

He introduced a form of new realism by redefining the standards of beauty with timeless images. His humanist approach and idealisation of women set him apart from other photographers, for he sought to privilege the soul and the personality.

"A fashion photographer should contribute to defining the image of the contemporary woman or man in their time, to reflect a certain social or human reality. How surrealistic is today's commercial agenda to retouch all signs of life and of experience, to retouch the very personal truth of the face itself?" Lindbergh once asked the magazine Art Forum.

He offered a new interpretation of women post the 1980s, without paying too much attention to the clothes, considering that, “If you take out the fashion and the artifice, you can then see the real person.”

British journalist Suzy Menkes said about him, "Refusing to bow to glossy perfection is Peter Lindbergh's trademark – the essence of the images that look into each person's unvarnished soul, however familiar or famous the sitter.”

What do you think?

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