A couple of weeks ago I visited the show “A Different Vision on Fashion Photography”of photographer Peter Lindbergh in museum “de Kunsthal” in Rotterdam (Holland). This great show is the first major retrospective of his work. From Rotterdam it will travel further on to other well known museums across the globe.
Peter Lindbergh was born in Poland in 1944. His parents fled to Germany at the end of WWII. Peter grew up in Duisburg, a city in the industrial “Ruhr” area. In 1973 he decided to change his name from Peter Brodbeck to Peter Lindbergh because there was another photographer with the name Peter Brodbeck in the city where he lived . His career started to take off when he did an assignment for the German magazine “Stern”. This assignment led to work for the French edition of Marie-Claire magazine and later for Vogue.
Peter Lindbergh is the first fashion photographer whose work is as much about the models, as about the fashion they wear, you could actually say that his work is even more about the models than the fashion.
He actively involves the models in the process. This becomes obvious from the various videos of his shoots that can be found on Youtube. All models in Peter Lindbergh’s work have a personality. This is of course in stark contrast with the work of most other fashion photographers, where the model usually serves as a glorified mannequin. His models are also real people in a physical sense: he uses make-up very selectively and does not mask the spots and pimples in the faces of his models (although his assistants sometimes do this afterwards in order not to upset his clients). Another interesting feature of his work are that his pictures never become erotic, even if the models are partly undressed. Also the notion of movement is very important in his work.
Peter Lindbergh has an outspoken view of women and photography. In May 2016 he declared in Art Forum:”If photographers are responsible for creating or reflecting an image of women in society, then, I must say, there is only one way for the future, and this is to define women as strong and independent. This should be the responsibility of photographers today: to free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection.”
He is not fond of smiling models in his pictures, he sees this as banal. One of the things he has in common with the work of Anton Corbijn is that the subjects in his photos often have a thoughtful expression. Another powerful feature of his work is that he has the ability to suggest an archetypical story on the basis of a single frame.
Peter Lindbergh pre-dominantly photographs in black & white, which is highly unusual for a fashion photographer. The reason for this is because he feels inspired by the work of the photographers who recorded the economic crisis in the US during the 1930’s like Walker Evans.
Peter Lindbergh switched to digital in the mid 2000’s. He uses Photoshop to keep his pictures in the same recognisable grainy style that made him famous when he still took photographs with analogue equipment. In that sense, his pictures remind the viewers again of the work of Anton Corbijn, although the pictures of the latter are considerably more grainy. Despite this use of grain, Peter Lindbergh’s pictures possess a very rich texture.
As to equipment, he does not like to use tripods, and prefers to take pictures by hand. When he was making analogue pictures he predominantly used a Pentax 67, a Konica Hexar and Nikon F SLRs. Recently he seems to work mostly with a Nikon 810, mainly in combination with the 70-200 mm lens, although there are also pictures of him using the Lumix 1 micro-four thirds camera with an external viewfinder.
He also takes a lot of pictures during his shoots; the various clips of Peter Lindbergh at work on Youtube show an intensive use of the motor drive. He photographs in RAW and seems to use the black-white preferences of the camera’s to check his pictures.
Peter Lindbergh does not like too much post-production, according to him there is no beauty without the truth and he thinks that too much post production is often a sign that photographers do not understand light sufficiently.
There are three sceneries Peter Lindbergh often uses. The first is the industrial scenery Peter Lindbergh knows from his youth in Duisburg. He has taken a number of pictures of models against the backdrop of machines. He clearly recognises that this originates from his roots; In an interview he stated that his pictures would have looked different if he had been born in Venice.
A second theme is the beach, which may be attributed to Peter Lindbergh spending a significant part of his holidays in Noordwijk, a seaside resort in the Netherlands.
Thirdly scenery he uses cities, predominantly New York and Paris. Paris is the city where Peter Lindbergh lives and he calls it the city that “has never lost its magic”.
Peter Lindbergh says he is inspired by art and art books. Apparently has owns a lot of them. In an interview he said: “I have a very big apartment in Paris but you can’t really move around there anymore; piles of books everywhere. I don’t want any more books. I have too many books; sometimes I have to buy another copy of a book that I know I have somewhere in my house or office because I can’t find it.”.
The exhibition and the catalogue
The exposition “A Different Vision on Fashion Photography” is very well designed. In various halls his work is shown on an extremely large format. Also interesting are several objects on display, for instance some of his notebooks and analogue cameras.
The catalogue of the exposition is great … in more aspects than one. It is a hardcover with a size of 6,4 x 25,4 x 34,3 cm, contains more than 500 pages and weighs a ton. The print quality is great and the essays are relevant and to the point.
A must have for lovers of photography books like me.
Credits: Picture of Peter Lindbergh by Donata-Wenders, Pictures of the models by Peter Lindbergh, Picture of the book by Taschen, Colour portrait of Peter Lindbergh by Getty Images en Pictures of the exhibition by me.