Peter Lindbergh, Installation view. Photo: Zarko Vijatovic
PARIS— In the fashion photography world, Peter Lindbergh is a super star. Born in Lissa, Poland in 1944, Lindbergh through his photography career has shown that beyond the essential skills necessary for photography, a photographer must also have the ability to adapt and improvise in order to capture the best images. Presently at Gagosian Paris, those qualities that have distinguished Lindbergh photography career are on display for many Parisians and lovers of photography to enjoy. The exhibition features images spanning thirty years of the photographer’s career. This is his first solo exhibition in Paris in more than a decade.
Influenced and inspired by modern dance, early German and East European cinema and photography, and personal history, Lindbergh has over the years developed a bold photography language that has positioned him above his contemporaries. A minimalist in his approach to photography, Lindbergh explores a minimum of artifice, and spare styling beauty to let the beauty of his female subjects shine through. The most significant element in Lindbergh photography career is his improvisational skills and the ability to look beyond the visible to capture his subject.
For Lindbergh, truth is the essence of beauty. “I don’t think real beauty can exist without truth,” he said. His concerted effort to get to that truth is evident in many his editorial photographs for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Interview, and many other international magazines. In main of those images, Lindbergh replaced stagy, calculated glamour with a raw vérité approach. In a Rembrandtnic way, he explores high-contrast black and white to accentuate the internal and external beauty of his subject. Positioned in both rural and industrial landscapes, the women in Lindbergh photographs are distinguished by a beauty that is purposeful, self-possessed, and uninhibited. Lindbergh approach to photography belies today’s obsession for excessive retouch that has come to characterized many editorial images.
Wild at Heart, a collection of images inspired by biker culture and shot on the streets of Brooklyn for Vogue in 1991 features prominently in this exhibition. The photo shot featured eight of the world’s sexiest supermodels, including Cindy Crawford, Tatjana Patitz, Helena Christensen, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Karen Mulder, and Stephanie Seymour, who embraced bikes with their hearts. In one image, the supermodels stand in front of a bike on a Brooklyn street. Posed close together, the beauty of the supermodels brought warmth to the dew-like atmosphere.
In another image from the shoot, Naomi Campbell, Karen Mulder, and Helena Christensen sit and lean on three bikes. Behind them are fading architecture and buildings. The sharp contrast between the atmosphere and supermodels black bikers jacket gives the image true authority. The image of Supermodel Helena Christensen in a Marlon Brando-esque pose from The Wild One is absolutely captivating. Dressed in her Erez leather jacket and Harley-Davidson leather biker cap, she gazes at the camera and the viewer in the most seductive way. The sharp contrast of black and white brings life to the glistering bracelets, earrings, necklace, spikes, and motorbike parts.
The 1980s was characterized by classic chic ideas: long boots, sequence, and all that glitter. While his contemporaries were focused on the style of that period, Lindbergh, in his unusual perceptive tradition, changed the focus of fashion and style by breaking with the idea of classical chic. When many photographers were busy photographing classical chic, he in 1988 photographed six emerging models—Karen Alexander, Linda Evangelista, Estelle Lefébure, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington, and Rachel Williams—in identical men’s white shirts on a Los Angeles beach. His foresightedness and the creative approach to photographs of these models put Lindbergh above his contemporaries.
Movement was one of the major elements in Lindbergh’s photographs. In some of the photographs, Lindbergh captures austerely beautiful depictions of women in different motion. The motions which are mimetic of to modern dance reveals Lindbergh passion for borrowing from other areas of art to augment his aesthetics. Lindbergh’s brilliance as a photographer and his outstanding understanding of movement is again evident in several editorial portraits of models including Kristen McMenamy and Uschi Obermaier, which gives credence to expressiveness and movement over the subjects’ clothing and setting.
Lindbergh’s photograph of Evangelista is one of the images that continue to mystify fashion industry experts. What is she doing? That is what many have been trying to decipher for years. In this image presented on an unprecedented large scale, Evangelista exhales a cloud of smoke that accentuates her dark dramatic features, bringing even greater attention to her wide open eyes. Her penetrating yet subtle gaze is both frightening and compassionate. Such contrasting dichotomy is also evident in the photography of Milla Jovovich Lindbergh took in 2000. Dressed in a dark turtleneck and posed against a black background, the image focuses not just on Jovovich’s elegant head but also her fixed gaze that is both haunting and soothing. The gritty image of Kate Moss shot for Harper’s Bazaar in 1994 that was inspired by Walker Evans’ iconic New Deal photographs also brings to the fore the contrast of beauty and the beast.
Peter Lindbergh’s exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery, Paris has again shown that he was not just a fashion photographer but also a brilliant artist in a class by himself. When many of his contemporaries were following trends, he was busy fostering new paths. Throughout his photography career, Lindbergh has not only eschewed the established standards and artifice of fashion photography, he has also paved the path for his contemporaries. Today, Lindbergh is celebrated not just because of his art, but also because he has set the direction that many young photographers are today following.