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Peter Lindbergh, the photographer who portrayed the soul of women

He broke the mold and changed fashion photography forever. He advocated a new canon of beauty, natural, without retouching, far removed from the image of ‘femmes fatales’, of unattainable goddesses, that Helmut Newton immortalized. “Beauty is having the courage to be yourself,” said Peter Lindbergh. He was interested in highlighting in his photographs the personality, the soul, the sensitivity, the individuality of women that makes them unique. He found authenticity in the imperfection. “There is this devastating religion of absolute perfection and youth as the most important tools to define women and I think it is unacceptable that in our time beauty should be defined by commercial interests,” he lamented.

stereotypes and conventions. Without intending it, created the top models of the 90s: Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawforfd, Tatjana Patitz … But instead of portraying them with makeup and their best clothes, she did it on the beach in Santa Monica, with baggy white shirts, laughing casually, or at the New York streets in iconic black and white snapshot. Always smiling and good-natured, with his inseparable cap and looking over his glasses, he has created images that have gone down in history. One of his latest works, a special issue of ‘Vogue’ UK in 2019, ‘Forces for Change’, featuring Meghan Markle as a guest editor.

Linda Evangelista, Michaela Bercu y Kirsten Owen, Pont-à-Mousson, 1988. © Peter Lindbergh. Cortesía Peter Lindbergh Foundation, París

In 2017 he embarked on an ambitious project, ‘Untold Stories’: a retrospective of his forty-year career, summarized in 161 images. A self-curated exhibition by Lindbergh himself, a very personal look at his work. But died suddenly, at age 74, in September 2019 and the project became posthumous. The show, which opened at the Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf in 2020, has traveled through Germany and Italy. Now those untold stories arrive in Spain with the original montage. From this Saturday until February 28, 2022, the sample can be visited, free of charge, in an industrial warehouse of the Battery dock in the port of La Coruña, whose remodeling has been carried out by the architect Elsa Urquijo. Two silos for coffee and shop have been recovered and a space with a very avant-garde aesthetic has been created with black containers. The project has been organized thanks to personal commitment (and financing) of Marta Ortega, the next president of Inditex and a great friend of Peter Lindbergh. It was he who made the photographic report of his wedding in 2018. On Wednesday morning there was an inaugural visit to the exhibition. Marta Ortega was accompanied by the president of the Xunta de Galicia, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, and Pablo Isla, whom the ‘tsarina of Inditex’ it will happen to the front of the empire created by Amancio Ortega. Already at night, a dinner, to which they attended famous faces from the world of art and fashion: Naomi Campbell, Luca Guadagnino, Pierpaolo Piccioli, David Chipperfield, Diana Widmaier Picasso, Jon Kortajarena, Esther Cañadas …

Karen Elson, Los Angeles, 1997. © Peter Lindbergh.  Courtesy Peter Lindbergh Foundation, Paris
Karen Elson, Los Angeles, 1997. © Peter Lindbergh. Courtesy Peter Lindbergh Foundation, Paris

Marta Ortega says in the prologue of ‘Raw Beauty’ –A book that collects 22 interviews conducted by Michael Benson with people who knew and worked with Lindbergh– that “Peter managed to bring out the best version of whoever stood in front of his objective. He did not care for superficial imperfections; he turned his gaze into the depths of people. I saw what no one else could see. It was the perfect example of how true genius has no time for exaggerated egos or diva whims. He showed us that you can create a great work by being sensitive and humble, that you can capture deep beauty without ornamentation or deception. ”

Peter Lindbergh
Peter Lindbergh – STEFAN RAPPO

Among the interviewees, two national treasures: Penelope Cruz and Rosalía, whom he portrayed for the covers of ‘Vogue’ Spain the year of his death. The actress emphasizes that «Peter knew how to photograph a woman. You just have to see their photos. You can almost peek into the soul of the person who is photographing. There is nothing faked. According to Rosalía, Lindbergh “had a enormous sensitivity towards flamenco. I think his flamenco photographs are among the most iconic dance images in history ”. The photographer, who traveled to La Coruña in 2018, always maintained a very close relationship with our country: «I am completely in love with Spain. When I finished school, I spent a year and a half of my life hitchhiking around Spain. It was the 70’s. I wanted to study Architecture or Fine Arts. But this adventure around Spain changed my life ». He bought a house in Ibiza, where he spent many summers. And there have been many projects in our country, where I had great friends. As the designer Juan Gatti. Lindbergh made the portrait of Leonor Watling and Rosario Flores that Gatti would use for the poster ‘Talk to her’, by Almodóvar. That image is in the exhibition.

In December 2010 ‘Vogue’ Spain published a monographic issue on our country, seen by Lindbergh, with 89 photographs: Almodóvar, Manolo Blahnik, Estrella Morente, Rossy de Palma, Bimba Bosé, Bibiana Fernández, Antonio Banderas… Interestingly, his is one of only three portraits of famous men in the show, along with Robert Pattinson and Richard Gere. As a curiosity, there are only three animals: a dolphin, a horse and a bull. Peter Lindbergh liked portraying women better. Models, in addition to those already mentioned, such as Claudia Schiffer, Esther Cañadas, Helena Christensen, Irina Shayk or a Linda Evangelista which he immortalized in a session by cutting his hair. Androgyny interested him. Kate Moss She said “working with Peter was like going on vacation.” They also posed for him big hollywood stars, Lindbergh’s many friends: Nicole Kidman, Milla Jovovich, Uma Thurman, Jessica Chastain, Jeanne Moreau, Charlotte Rampling, Hellen Mirren, Julianne Moore … There are pictures of all of them in the exhibition.

Pablo Isla, Alberto Núñez Feijó, Marta Ortega and Benjamin Lindbergh, on Wednesday at the opening visit to the exhibition
Pablo Isla, Alberto Núñez Feijó, Marta Ortega and Benjamin Lindbergh, on Wednesday at the opening visit to the exhibition – ÓSCAR CORRAL

The exhibition is opened by a room with five monumental screens in which we see Lindbergh in action in the sessions of his most iconic photos, as well as the contact sheets of his photographs. From there we go to the heart of the show: ‘Manifest’, an installation that collects on a black background reproductions of 24 images that, for Lindbergh, represented the essence of his work, how he wanted to be rememberedexplains Thoai Niradeth, project manager at the Lindbergh Foundation, who worked with the photographer. And from the black cube, to the white cube, which is the body of the project: hang the 161 images that he considered key in his career: both the emblematic ones and some that come to light for the first time. All in large size and in black and white, with few exceptions, such as a plate of food. Lindberg decided to the smallest detail: the format of the images, the combinations, the frame (made of wenge wood) and even the crystals: he wanted the viewer to reflect on them.

And, in the antipodes of his work for fashion, the show closes with his most personal project: ‘Testament’. It focuses on Elmer Carroll, a prisoner on death row in a Florida jail. For 30 minutes Carroll looks at himself in front of a mirror, without speaking. Lindberg is filming behind. It is a reflection on empathy. Along with the video, eleven portraits of the inmate are displayed in an adjoining room. “We are all born innocent,” writes the photographer.

Steffi Argelich, Los Angeles, 2014
Steffi Argelich, Los Angeles, 2014 – © Peter Lindbergh. Courtesy Peter Lindbergh Foundation, Paris

Peter Lindbergh was born in Leszno (Poland) in 1944, in the middle of World War II. Lover of film noir and German expressionism (‘Metropolis’, by Fritz Lang, Marlene Dietrich), a fan of science fiction and masks, used to photograph through a music stand. He worked as a window dresser in a department store before publishing his photos in the best magazines. He was the first to sign three Pirelli calendars. Obsessed with Van Gogh’s work (“My idol”), traveled to Arles in his footsteps. This exhibition is documented by a special edition of the book ‘Untold Stories’ (Taschen), which includes the emotional words that his great friend the filmmaker Wim Wenders read at his funeral in the Saint-Sulpice church in Paris in September 2019: “His eyes, always bright with joy, which gave us all so much light, taught millions of people to see beauty.”

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