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Q&A with Peter Lindbergh

A conversation with the photographer

What is the central message or spirit that guides you in your photographic practice?
There is more than one message: photography itself should be mentioned before anything else, if you’ve agreed with being labeled as a photographer. Then it is important to ask yourself a few questions: what do you stand for? Do you have a point of view? Photographers should be aware of their responsibilities. There are many things done to women today through fashion photography I can’t agree with. There is this devastating religion of absolute perfection and youth as the most important tools to define women and I think it is inacceptable that beauty in our time should be defined by commercial interests or based on extensive photoshop manipulations.

What or whom is your favorite subject?
Let me use this question to continue the first answer, as message and spirit continue to be important. I’ve just finished a few days ago my third Pirelli calendar for the coming year 2017. As I had total freedom, I wanted to take on the quite ambitious challenge to try portraits of what I would define today as a more truthful vision of beauty. To do this, I’ve chosen 15 women I personally love and admire and have been close to for quite some time. All of them are actresses. Here’s a short statement I’ve written for the calendar: “In a time when women are represented in the media and everywhere else as ambassadors of perfection and youth, I thought it was important to remind everyone that there is a different beauty, more real and truthful, not manipulated by commercial or any other interests, beauty which speaks about individuality, the courage to be yourself, and your very own sensibility.” This is my favorite subject.

You are known for your photographic sensitivity and ability to create a narrative around a fashion shoot. What makes a picture poetic for you?
When I look around and see most of the photographers today using manipulation as their major tool, I can’t help thinking that this might be the reason why it is so seldom to see photographers working based on their truly authentic creativity. I also see many photographers moving from one place to another, connecting to trends or other mainstream influences. My feelings about being poetic have to do with honesty, and again with being real and personal, based on your authentic self.

Can you tell us more about your interests in cabaret, ballet, Bauhaus, and cinema and their influence on your aesthetic language?
This comes from my time in Berlin, after having lived in Duisburg until I was 17, from there to Luzern in Switzerland and then, eight months later, right into the wide open arms of Berlin. When I arrived there, I was 18 years old and in need for culture. Theater, movies like Metropolis and The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich, Kurt Weill and Brecht, galleries, museums, happenings, artists, nightclubs, and cabaret’s. Bookstores. I learned about Beckman, Paul Klee, Schwitters and the Dadaists. Everything was suddenly possible and inspiring. The love for ballet came later, “injected” by my late friend Pina Bausch and Ushio Amagatsu’s Japanese avantgarde dancers of Sankai Juku.

How has your German descent or your Ruhrgebiet upbringing otherwise influenced you in your work…perhaps in the choice of set, moods, and color palette?
Look at my work and you will instantly know, without any doubt, that this photographer didn’t grew up in Venice or Florence. I grew up with dark, immensely big and dark grey, industrial architecture everywhere and the feeling of manufacture and dust. My dear friend Wim Wenders comes from a town 25km away, and the visual aesthetic we share is very close. I like everything he does down to the last detail.

What role does a photographer’s personality play in the interaction between subject/ model and the camera?
The way to something extraordinary is always the same: “be yourself and real.” Being there without positioning yourself has a very strong impact on the people you photograph. Diane Arbus once said something absolutely beautiful on this subject: “When I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself.” You can’t say it better. It is a wonderful metaphor for empathy and also tolerance and shows a deep understanding from what happens between photographer and his sitter.

Your new book with TASCHEN spans four decades and more than 400 pictures. How would you describe the experience of curating so much work? Did you find any surprises or patterns along the way?
Oh yes, definitely. I realized that I’ve worked quite independently from the fast changing trends over all these years and I admit that I’m a tiny bit proud about the fact that my views have evolved, but never really changed. Looking back has also confirmed my admiration for the brilliance and enormous creativity the designers bring to their workplace. I’m also much more aware about the possibilities to become somehow, even only a little bit, more significant, at a time where a lot of things seem to be more important than finding out if pink really is the new black...or not.

What would you like people to gain from this publication, now and in the future?
To be inspired, to think differently, and hopefully bigger, about as many things as possible...even photography!