In the catalogue of the exhibition “A Different Vision on Fashion Photography” (on show from this month until February 2018 at the Palace of Venaria near Turin), Peter Lindbergh presents us with a poignant provocation, by choosing Kate Moss – a symbol of eternal adolescence and juvenile beauty – and poetically portraying her marked by age. A new Amazon with her hair tied back in manly style, posing with her body hunched like a street kid, she looks at us proudly, but with a gaze that also reveals the melancholy and intensity of experience. Famous for portraying women in their innermost sincerity, and stripping them of any superfluous accessory, the German photographer liberates the female image from the myth of perfection and youth.
“Kate had taken a few months off work,” explains Lindbergh. “When she started again, although nobody noticed it, there had been a substantial change: she had become a woman. She told me she felt ready for a different project, that she was tired of playing the young girl. Other photographers have always tried to preserve the same timeless image of her, but to me it seemed a totally ridiculous attempt, and rather boring too.”
Right from the start, you have always refused to retouch faces and bodies in your photographs. Why?
It’s an ethical as well as aesthetic choice. With the indiscriminate touching-up of photos, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing personalities drained of all their humanity, yet we consider them as real. The signs of age and experience have been erased from the faces of these men and women. I’m firmly convinced that true beauty only springs from the acceptance of oneself, from an awareness of who we really are. It’s a question of identity.
In 1988 you took a photo that has become an icon of your work: six girls portrayed on the beach without make-up, just wearing simple white shirts. The startling sobriety of this image totally contrasted with the artificial female aesthetics of that period.
The model I’ve always had in mind stems from my girl classmates at art school dressed in jeans, a T-shirt and trainers. They were practical women who had plans and ambitions to fulfil in their lives. I chose the beach because it’s a flat and homogeneous backdrop, allowing me to concentrate on what really interests me about a women: her face.
Group shots are a constant feature in your work. Is the choice to have many different women in the same image a way to emphasise a plural, non-standardised vision of beauty?
In 1990, when they asked me to shoot a cover for “British Vogue” to convey my personal vision of a woman, I explained that I couldn’t just photograph one single girl, because what I was looking for was a new purpose, and new feminine determination. And that was something that couldn’t just relate to one individual, but to a whole generation.
In your search for authenticity and radical essentiality, black and white has been your tool of choice.
Although humans see reality in colour, for me, black and white has always been connected to the image’s deeper truth, to its most hidden meaning. In this sense, I was influenced by American photography from the years of the Great Depression. My imagination was indelibly marked by the blunt realism in the faces immortalised by documentary photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans.
The backgrounds in your photos are often composed of different layers, with large curtains, props or chairs scattered around, creating the feeling of a set in constant transformation. Why is that?
It’s a way to avoid a sense of perfection and closure. On the contrary, I like working in situations where everything is free and continually varying, where the action is guided by change.
You are the only photographer who has shot three Pirelli calendars, and you have always proposed an unconventional view. In 2002, you chose young actresses and photographed them without undressing them, while the 2017 edition is dedicated to the beauty of women’s different ages.
I never thought much about their age when I was doing the casting. I really chose each of them because I loved them as women. The project’s success depended on the group’s cohesion and energy. With many of them, we’ve been friends for 25 years. They all wanted to support the idea of a beauty that faces reality and is liberated from false myths, rather than proposing a softer, sugar-coated version of a forty-year-old or a fifty-year-old. Kate Winslet even insisted on having her hands photographed, even though hands are a notorious giveaway of someone’s age.
Peter loves women profoundly, but the connection occurs on an intimate rather than an erotic level. Many of your muses say this about you, and so does your friend Wim Wenders, who likens you to the main character in Truffaut’s “The Man Who Loved Women”.
Women are more open and courageous, they have more guts and take many more risks than men. I look at them for what they really are. Perhaps this is what leads them to trust me.
What is age for you?
A flexible and open-minded way of thinking. Today, at over 70 years old, I have a simpler approach to life. I can totally devote myself to experimentation. As a result, I’m constantly finding myself in richly stimulating situations, chosen one by one, where everything has a significance.