The photographer and his supermodel subjects recall some of the greatest shoots in history. See more Peter Lindbergh photographs.
In a certain kind of factory, everyone is famous for 15 minutes. But in the case of Peter Lindbergh, the images created in his factory are eternal. In fact, it is the industrial landscape — the steelworks in his hometown of Duisburg, Germany — that has shaped his romantic, humanistic eye for more than 30 years.
Cut to 1992. Linda Evangelista, one of the superest of supermodels, is flying back to the United States via the Concorde to be photographed by Lindbergh for Bazaar, soon after he was lured to the magazine by Liz Tilberis. "They put me in a limousine and I dozed off. I pull up, look around, and burst into tears. I went first-class all the way to this ugly, abandoned, filthy factory in Philadelphia! For Harper's Bazaar!" She sighs dramatically. "The pictures were gorgeous. But after, I told him, 'No more factories; you take me to châteaus.'"
His pictures, often rendered in black and white with their industrial guts (cameras, lights, cords) showing, exhibit a deconstructed kind of beauty. "I show elements of the set in my pictures because it's not real," Lindbergh explains. "When I see movies, I often love the 'making of' more than the movie itself. It's not so final. When you have a woman just standing there, it doesn't mean much."
Lindbergh's success is due to one thing: His pictures mean a lot. He originally studied art in Berlin, beginning his photography career almost by accident. "Someone I knew needed an assistant. But I could have easily been a baker or worked in a flower shop." In 1973, he started shooting monochromatic advertising campaigns. ("Black and white, you see under the skin, no?") Today Lindbergh's imagery is instantly recognizable: from British Vogue to Harper's Bazaar; in campaigns for Dior, Giorgio Armani, Prada, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and Lancôme; numerous exhibitions; and five books. And sometimes, when arriving in New York from his home in Paris, he drives past his epic portraits of Kate Moss or Daria Werbowy on billboards for jeweler David Yurman.
After all, Lindbergh loves women. Most famously, his eye is responsible for defining the era of the supermodel. The inception: the January 1990 cover of British Vogue (commissioned by Tilberis, then the editor in chief, and styled by Brana Wolf, both of whom later came to Bazaar), where he assembled Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Tatjana Patitz in downtown New York. "It was a new generation, and that new generation came with a new interpretation of women," he explains. "It was the first picture of them together as a group."
That cover, of course, also inspired George Michael's "Freedom 90" video, directed by David Fincher. "Yah!" says Lindbergh. "I heard George Michael say that it was the most beautiful picture of women he'd ever seen. Funny, I have never met George Michael." Crawford says, "It was definitely a moment. That photograph plus the video plus Gianni Versace — the stars were all in alignment." Turlington, famously the most earnest of the bunch, observes, "Those pictures that Peter captured are definitely some of the most incriminating of the supermodel era."
Does Lindbergh miss the era of the supermodels, those sublime creatures who, thanks to his pictures, seemed to live so many of our dreams? In a way. While he likes today's stars ("Daria and Jessica Stam, they're great, no?"), he laments, "There is so much time you waste looking for new faces. You don't want a new woman every five days. I started with my girls when they were 19 or 20, and they became friends too. They became 25, 28, 30, really incredible, mature, intelligent, and extraordinarily beautiful. After all, each had to run a one-woman million-dollar business. You don't become a supermodel by being stupid."
But then along came grunge and--with the exception of Moss--the era of the faceless model. "When people said it was all over, I had to go back to 17-year-old teenagers," he recalls. "It was terrible! You live with a great wife for 20 years, she leaves you, so you run off with the next girl with nice boobs and a miniskirt?
"For a while, Linda was married to my best friend," Lindbergh says of Evangelista, his factory girl, whom he met in the late '80s. "At first, there was something about her I didn't feel. But shortly after that, we worked together almost every day. At one point, I had the feeling we had done everything we could do together, so I said, 'Why don't you cut your hair short?' She was shocked. But one day, she showed up on set and said, 'I want to cut it.' Julien d'Ys took that beautiful Italian hair and snipped it right off. She cried for two hours. The white-shirt picture of her was taken the next day, and a new woman was born. She was a good model, but she became the model."
Evangelista adds, "Peter said, 'You're going to love this picture in 25 years.' It's almost 25 years, and I do." Her other favorite? Lindbergh's "flying" for Bazaar in 1992, in which she was suspended above the Manhattan streets. "But that hurt! I was hanging from a crane. I was so excited about it — until they lifted me up."
Cut to 2009. Naomi Campbell is in Moscow, stuck in traffic and cooing down the phone line, "Oh, Peter! I first worked with him when I was 16; we are like brother and sister." The session, shot in Deauville, was inspired by Josephine Baker, and Lindbergh wanted "a black girl who could dance." "I had to be naked in the rain on the boardwalk," Campbell remembers. (After all, Lindbergh notes pragmatically, "The jewelry that day was beautiful.") So was Naomi on time for her brother? "Ha! I was always lying to everyone," Lindbergh says. "She was always late, but I loved her so much, I lied. I'd say, 'She is right on the minute. What are you talking about?'"
Turlington was more punctual. "Peter's photographs are very cinematic, his portraits so raw," she says. "My first impression of Peter was that he was more gentle and sweet than the images he captured." Lindbergh adds, "Christy was so laid-back. She had a quietness and was very positive, never negative. She was stunningly beautiful, almost too perfect." Apart from the time she was photographed giving him the finger on the set of a Prada campaign. Turlington laughs and says, "I love that picture."
Lindbergh was not so in love with Helena Christensen's book the first time he met her. "It was filled with heavy hair and makeup — not so fabulous. But in the back, there was a picture of her taken by her neighbor in her apartment. That was it." Off to the desert they went, where Lindbergh shot Christensen for a now-famous alien story that catapulted her onto the super list. "That's the shoot I remember most," says Christensen, "the weirdest of them all. Also, we did a cover with a white horse, and the horse got quite excited, so to speak. There was some retouching to be done on the horse afterward!"
"At the time we started together, Peter's style was shockingly different," says Cindy Crawford. "At a time when it was all big hair and pushing the boobs up, he stripped you of those props and showed you in a different way. It's like being photographed right when you wake up in the morning." Ironically, familiarity is to blame for why Lindbergh initially didn't embrace his countrywoman Claudia Schiffer. "I felt I knew that kind of person too well; she wasn't exotic. It's a pity, because I wasted time with her in the beginning. We grew into each other. She is a true woman now." Says Schiffer, "It's like a friend is taking your picture. A long-lost friend."
In this litany of ladies, there are, of course, the girls. Lindbergh says, "Kate Moss and Amber Valletta, they came in later. Karl Lagerfeld said in my book 10 Women, 'Perhaps only Amber and Kate possess the key to the mysterious door of the near visual future.' Ha! Kate is such a light person. She's a very funny, naughty girl, and she's always ready to do something totally unexpected."
Moss remembers a particularly unexpected shoot in Rome for Bazaar in 1994: "I had to walk the streets in the highest stilettos you have ever seen, for three days! We caused quite a stir. But it was worth it." Valletta posed in one of the photographer's most famous shoots, the angel story for Bazaar in 1993. "I think we may have been the first people to close down a part of Times Square for a shoot. It was unheard of at the time," she remembers.
The woman Lindbergh would most characterize as a muse, however, is Milla Jovovich: "When Milla comes in, you feel like something is going to happen." Jovovich, who appears on the cover of Lindbergh's book Untitled 116, her face bare save for a dark slash of lipstick, recalls once taking off her makeup after a shoot. "Peter said, 'Stop!' and took the picture. It's strong yet vulnerable and iconic, but without trying to prove anything." Jovovich speaks of Lindbergh like family. "My favorite word of his is beautiful, beautiful!"
Women, of course, can be an insecure lot. On shooting actresses, Lindbergh observes, "They are so fragile because of the number of people involved. Often their publicists speak for them. Kate Winslet [whom Lindbergh shoots for Lancôme], though, speaks for herself. I'm madly in love with Kate, Julianne Moore, and Reese Witherspoon as well." What about shooting First Lady Michelle Obama? "The problem is that you get 10 minutes. If I could do a real portrait of her, I would walk to Washington."
Real. As ironic and misplaced as the word appears in a world of artifice and aspiration, it's the word that continues to define Peter Lindbergh. Evangelista says, "Of all the people I've worked with, he's the one who has photographed the real me, whoever that is." Campbell concurs: "It's something intimate that Peter gets out of you, something you may not want to show to everyone. But he gets it." Turlington says, "I never felt like I was not my true self in front of his camera, which was rare in the '90s."
Valletta observes, "Peter and I have driven all over the world. He doesn't do the driving, though. He's too busy talking and playing music to drive." What else? "Oh, he wears a Speedo. Well, he may not anymore, but I have seen him in a Speedo. He's got great legs!" On set, "sometimes we have wine at lunch," Crawford sighs, "hang out, have a little sandwich."
Though to a large degree he has defined glamour, Lindbergh was never lost in it. Happily married to photographer Petra Sedlaczek, "I have four kids, a life," he says. "I go out very rarely in Paris. If it's a fashion party at a nightclub, I wouldn't dream to go. People come to you for your work, not because you go to all their parties.
"I don't feel like a fashion person," he continues. "I don't even have a little earring somewhere."
What Lindbergh does have is an epic collection of blue cotton shirts, a uniform on set and in life. "He has one shirt, in multiples," says Evangelista. "I think he has one and he washes it every day," laughs Jovovich. "No, he usually buys a dozen at a time because he's worried they'll stop making them!" says Campbell. "He loves his Gap shirts. It used to be Wrangler."
"Gap? Wrangler?" Lindbergh repeats, shocked. "I get them specially made by JLR in Paris! Oh, well, I guess they don't look like it...." Then he breaks into a big German laugh.