The Eighties and Nineties were special times for fashion. That golden age saw supermodels that would be immortalised as muses, while designers dreamt up silhouettes that are still used as references today. Behind this visionary world of beautiful faces and fancy clothes was a handful of photographers who galvanised the imaginations of millions. Sitting at the top of the lot was Peter Lindbergh, who died on Tuesday at the age of 74.
To simply label him as cinematic would be an understatement. The German fashion photographer was renowned for his black-and-white portraits, but more so his respect for women. Despite coming from an era when perfection was the biggest prerequisite for a good photograph, Lindbergh was a firm advocate for the female form in all its natural beauty, and often refused to retouch images, saying “this should be the responsibility of photographers today, to free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection.”
During his career, the stalwart shot for some of the most influential magazines, such as Vogue, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and the Wall Street Journal Magazine. He had the power to persuade with his images.
Although born in Poland, Lindbergh was raised in industrial Duisburg, where he developed an eye for film noir and the shadowy magnetism of German expressionist cinema from an early age.
This influence clearly found its way into his photographs — some posed, many candid, but all tinged with the same melancholic power. They were true portraits which encapsulated a moment in time, all while still being as — if not more — relevant and relatable today. It’s a near impossible feat in fashion, but his work would never go out of style.
It is perhaps the intense intimacy in his photographs — even when his subjects were merely looking back him — that gave him an edge over the rest of his peers, sealing his reputation as one of the best the world would ever see.
Here, we remember some of his most phenomenal and indelible work.
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- Kate Moss for Harper's Bazaar in 1994
- Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford for British Vogue in 1990
- Debbie Lee Carrington and Helena Christensen for Vogue Italia in 1990
- Cindy Crawford, Tatjana Patitz, Helena Christensen, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Karen Mulder & Stephanie Seymour for Vogue in 1991
- Estelle Léfebure, Karen Alexander, Rachel Williams, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz and Christy Turlington for Vogue in 1988
- Mathilde on Eiffel Tower for Rolling Stone, October 1989
- Zhang Ziyi for Pirelli Calendar 2017
- Forces of Change issue for Vogue, September 2019
In an interview with photographer Nick Knight in 2013, Kate Moss revealed that it was Lindbergh’s photos with Linda Evangelista that had inspired her to become a model. The two would go on to forge a close friendship and collaborate on some of her best works throughout her career.
Lindbergh always had a way of capturing the raw beauty of women, and he portrayed that talent with the best in the industry. While no longer modelling professional, Christy Turlington still fondly remembers the titan.
“I remember the first shoot in Deauville for @britishvogue as well as the last for the same magazine just a few months ago in NYC. The photos are timeless and yet they evoke a time when film was the most important medium and would reveal surprises over time. Peter was kind and always smiling. He was proud of his work but even more proud of his family. That’s what he spoke of when we were last together. I am sorry for our loss today. And, grateful for the times and laughs we shared,” she said in a tribute on Instagram.
Described by the New York Times as the first ever narrative story in fashion photography, this photo sees actress Debbie Lee Carrington dressed as an alien alongside model Helena Christensen for his 1990 ET story for Italian Vogue. Science fiction and cinematic suspense were always ongoing themes in his work.
Titled the “The Wild Ones,” Lindbergh outfitted Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and other leading models in motorcycle jackets and biker boots and shot them in the then-barren back streets beneath the Manhattan Bridge. In a WWD interview in 1991, he said: “There was not one single shop. I really felt like I was the first person in the world to shoot there. There were only big rats running all over the streets.”
The iconic “White Shirts” photo shot at the Santa Monica Beach would go on to launch the careers of Lindbergh and the then-unknown models. It’s regarded as the first artifact of the supermodel era, and it went on to inspire the video for George Michael’s 1990 single “Freedom”.
Lindbergh was the only photographer to shoot the cult-favourite Pirelli calendar three times, in 1996, 2002 and 2017.
One of Lindbergh’s final published projects would be a portfolio of portraits taken for British Vogue’s September 2019 bumper issue. He was handpicked by the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, to feature women for the Forces of Change issue, of which she guest edited. The issue will see the likes of Jane Fonda, Gemma Chan, and Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister. The latter is the first time a Vogue cover star has been photographed via a video call, but the German stalwart still managed to capture the compassion and passion she’s come to be known for.
“His ability to see real beauty in people, and the world, was ceaseless, and will live on through the images he created,” said Edward Enninful, the editor of British Vogue, who wrote in a tribute on Vogue’s website.