He is one of the most famous fashion photographers in the world. Peter Lindbergh, 69, went down in history with his black-and-white photos of the young Kate Moss and group images of the supermodels in the ‘90s. For the Silhouette “An Icon for an Icon” campaign, he shot Hollywood star Cate Blanchett. In this interview Peter Lindbergh talks about his inspiration for the Icon shoot, working with the Oscar winner and why an emotional link is so vital to a good photo.
Who are easier to photograph – professional models or actors?
Actually it’s easier to photograph models because they’re used to looking directly into the camera. Posing is their job. With actors, it’s often a different story. They aren’t used to looking at the camera front on. But, that doesn’t matter – that’s the challenge.
For the Silhouette campaign, you put Hollywood actress Cate Blanchett in the limelight. What was it like working with her?
Cate is simply great. She’s so natural and doesn’t act like a ‘star’ at all. That makes working with her so nice. Or maybe it’s because she’s Australian. All the uncomplicated people I have worked with up to now come from either Australia or New Zealand (laughs).
Do you have any funny stories you can tell about the shoot?
No, not directly. But I remember the first time I worked with Cate: that was 10 or 12 years ago in Portofino. She was with her husband and son. One of my sons also happened to be there. The two boys got along great, spending the whole day with each other; right away it felt like we were family, so I always look forward to working with her.
How do you manage to convey so much intimacy in your photos?
I’m honest and give people the feeling that they can relax with me. I communicate a certain ease. In most cases, that is the key to get people to open up. And unlike many other photographers, I start shooting early, while things are still being set up and the motive isn’t at its best. So we’re building up the set and experimenting with the light, and my pictures come about organically.
How important is an emotional link for a good photo?
Very important, but emotions only arise spontaneously. For example, the first time I worked with Nadja Auermann, the atmosphere in the afternoon sunlight in Los Angeles was so intense, that she suddenly began to cry. Photographing people can be very intimate. Sometimes it is so intimate that I feel like I am looking at the woman directly, and no longer through the lens.
Of all the personalities you have photographed, which has impressed you the most?
The French actress Jeanne Moreau. A few years ago I made a very interesting, but not very flattering photo of her and asked for her permission to publish a lightly retouched version of it. She was then 78, and just exclaimed, “But Peter, what exactly do you wish to retouch?” That impressed me a lot.
You are known as the inventor of the supermodel. Your photos of Naomi Campell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz and Christy Turlington shot together are legendary. Did you ever imagine that that would make you go down in the history of photography?
No, not at all, something like that can’t be planned. You can’t just go and say: “now I’m going to do something legendary.” It’s a coincidence, something that just happens. Back then, at the end of the ‘80s, I just wanted to do something different. I no longer wanted to photograph women in haute-couture, laden with diamonds, carrying crocodile handbags. I wanted to bring their natural beauty to light, not change the world.
What was it like switching to digital photography?
It was a real drama (laughs). Time and time again I’ve battled with technology and have had to ask my assistant how something works. The main difference, though, is that photography in the past was a more intimate process between the model and the photographer. Today the camera is hooked up to the computer, and there are a thousand guys on the set. If you are really unlucky, you’ve even got an editor standing at the laptop commenting on every move the model makes, or suggesting how it could be done better. That, unfortunately, doesn’t have much to do with the photography.
What advice would you give today’s young photographers?
Don’t be an assistant to a famous photographer. It’s hard to free yourself later from their influence. It’s also important to photograph as much as you possibly can. That is the only way that quality and your own personal style can evolve.
When does photography become art?
The difference between art and business is superfluous in my opinion. For me, a photo is ‘art’ if it causes an emotional reaction or changes an established way of looking at things, or if it’s simply new and original.
How have the fashion industry and modeling business changed in comparison to the past?
Everything was friendlier and more personal before. Today the entire industry is just one marketing strategy. Numbers are the thing now, not authenticity or personality. I often have the feeling that I’m no longer dealing with people, but with empty shells. I think that’s a real shame.
What was your first reaction when you were asked if you would photograph the new Silhouette campaign?
I thought, what in the world is Silhouette (laughs)? I have to be honest and say that I had never heard of the brand before. But then I did a bit of research and was quickly very impressed. I had no idea how big and successful the company is.
Do you wear a Silhouette yourself?
Yes, and with great pleasure because the glasses don’t change my face, and they’re so light that I forget I’m wearing them.
Please fill in the blank: Peter Lindbergh is…
A really nice guy who is incredibly handsome (laughs). No, seriously. I am someone who tries everyday to take an interesting photograph once again.