I was surprised to see my mum’s text telling me Naomi Campbell was in our hometown, small city in the Northwest corner of Spain. Along with other celebrities, she had come to the opening of a new photography exhibition in collaboration with the Inditex group (owners of Zara, Massimo Dutti, and many other brands). The exhibition, ‘Untold Stories,’ was about the one and only Peter Lindbergh, one of the most famous fashion photographers in recent history.
I already knew of his work, but I’d never gone into much depth on his art or personal life. A curated exhibition so close to my own doorstep was the perfect opportunity to immerse myself into his captivating world.
Peter Lindbergh (nee Peter Brodbeck) was born in 1944 in Lezno, Poland, and raised in Duisburg, West Germany. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, before deciding to travel around various places including Arles (France), Spain, and Morocco for two years. He returned to Germany to study again, but soon realised photography was his true passion. After working as an assistant and then opening his own studio, Lindbergh moved to Paris in 1978. Once there, he formed a close friendship with Tunisian fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa. The pair of up-and-coming artists developed a lifelong connection of both personal and professional collaboration, which is portrayed in the coffee table book “Azzedine Alaïa. Peter Lindbergh”.
Fast forward to 1989, Lindbergh was asked to photograph “the woman of the 90s” for the cover of British Vogue. In a 2016 Vogue article, Cindy Crawford revealed that Lindbergh, not in favour of the idea of just one woman signifying the ideal of the decade, made clear he would only accept portraying a group of women. And that is how, on a warm New York day, a group of women were photographed together and became the faces of the January 1990 British Vogue cover. The photograph shows five young models, by then still relatively unknown, in black and white and with minimal hair and make-up. These women, including Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista, would soon become part of the 90s supermodel revolution and come to be recognised worldwide. The cover actually inspired singer George Michael to include the five girls in the music video for his song Freedom! 90 (released in 1990).
Having grown up in an industrial city, Peter Lindbergh’s images are characterised by their minimal, gloomy and raw atmosphere, evoking an almost melancholic feeling. In addition to supermodels such as Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, he photographed many famous women, from actresses Uma Thurman and Kate Winslet, to singers Tina Turner and Madonna. No matter the person at the other end of the lens, Lindberg always seemed to capture an essence that went beyond their physical features, managing to turn expensive designer clothes into a secondary character. Instead, his focus is always on a gaze, a facial expression that catches your attention for its mystery. There are many talented photographers around the world and many beautiful pictures in magazines, but I believe only the truly talented can go beyond a pretty face and present beauty in such a profound way.
Lindbergh clearly opposed extravagance: “I always say, ‘take the makeup off’. The number of beautiful women who have asked me to lengthen their legs or move their eyes further apart, you would not believe. It’s a culture of madness”.
The 90s were famously a time for skinny models and countless fad diets, so it’s refreshing to see someone going against the norms and only doing things the way he truly wanted to, especially in an industry such as fashion.
Peter Lindbergh passed away in September 2019, but the fashion world keeps his legacy and spirit, and the people he worked with remember him as a true visionary. Untold Stories will keep traveling the world, and showcasing the beauty of both Lindbergh’s photography, and the subjects he knew needed no artifice to shine.