Remembering Peter Lindbergh, The Iconic Fashion Photographer Who Re-Defined Beauty

The German photographer, celebrated for capturing the natural beauty of all women, has died aged 74

Meghan Markle, photographed by Peter Lindbergh for Vanity Fair's October 2017 issue. Photo / @vanityfair Instagram

Peter Lindbergh, the fashion photographer famed for showing women as they really were, has died at the age of 74. Most recently, Lindbergh was commissioned by the Duchess of Sussex to photograph the 15 women she had chosen as ‘Forces for Change’ to star on the cover of the September issue of British Vogue, which she guest edited.

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The project epitomised the German photographer’s reputation for celebrating the natural, real beauty of all women — his aesthetic had the power to unite everyone from 16-year-old climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg to 81-year-old Hollywood icon Jane Fonda. The Duchess paid tribute to Lindbergh via the @SussexRoyal Instagram account: "His work is revered globally for capturing the essence of a subject and promoting healthy ideals of beauty, eschewing photoshopping, and preferring natural beauty with minimal makeup."

Long before it was fashionable, Lindbergh pioneered fashion photography which refused excessive polish in favour of a relaxed and joyful mood which had a timeless energy — his work from the Eighties and Nineties has the rare quality of looking as fresh today as it did then. ‘At a time when it was all big hair and pushing the boobs up, he stripped you of those props and showed you in a different way. It’s like being photographed right when you wake up in the morning,’ Cindy Crawford once said of Lindbergh’s method.

One of his most enduringly famous images is the January 1990 cover of British Vogue. Showing supermodels Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington and Crawford in simple jersey tops and barely-there make-up, the cover was a breath of fresh air after the blingtastic glam of the Eighties and set the tone for a decade where pared-back, sleek style reigned. ‘They were the kind of models who were really independent, joyful and sporty, but — most importantly — they were strong in themselves. I thought that should be the future,’ Lindbergh told me when I interviewed him in 2016.

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Fashion has caught up with Lindbergh’s approach in recent years, with kindness, real women and diversity becoming buzzwords, but it was not always thus; some of his most recognisable work was once rejected by American Vogue because it was deemed too laidback. "I just can’t take the types of photographs of women that are in your magazine," Lindbergh told Conde Nast’s then creative director Alexander Liberman. However when Anna Wintour became editor of the title in 1988, she chose Lindbergh to shoot her first cover.

Featuring Israeli model Michaela Bercu, the image they created defied stereotypes. He photographed her with natural wavy hair, little make-up and a huge smile. She was wearing a Lacroix jacket but the matching skirt didn’t fit as she was carrying extra weight from a recent holiday so her stomach poked out over casual jeans instead. “It only served to reinforce the idea to take couture's haughty grandeur and playfully throw it headlong into real life and see what happened," Wintour has since said of the cover.

It was Lindbergh’s relaxed and unretouched imagery which appealed to Meghan Markle when she was captured by him for the cover of Vanity Fair’s October 2017 issue, just a couple of months before her engagement to Prince Harry was announced. She may not yet have been an official member of the royal family, but by appearing on the cover with faint wrinkles showing around her eyes and freckles speckled across her nose and cheeks, Meghan, with Lindbergh’s help, was setting the tone for the kind of modern princess she wanted to be.

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“I’ve always loved my freckles,” she told Vanity Fair, so she was “thrilled to work with Peter because he rarely retouches and he believes in such little makeup. I gave him a big hug and said, ‘I am so excited to work with you because I know we will finally be able to see my freckles!’ ”

Lindbergh had a rare reputation for being genuinely warm and kind. He kept up his relationship with the supermodels, photographing Eva Herzigova, Nadja Auermann, Cindy Crawford, Tatjana Patitz, Karen Alexander and Helena Christensen for Vogue Italia in 2015. ‘It’s ridiculous to pretend there are no beautiful older women,’ he told me of his determination to work women of all ages. ‘I wanted to show that they look as good today. Actually, I think they look even better than before… So wake up and don’t believe people who tell you you’re finished when you’re 40. That’s my reason for doing this.’

Besides the Vogue Italia shoot, he lensed a 'New Normal' campaign for Armani and 2017’s Pirelli calendar, creating images of Nicole Kidman, Helen Mirren, Uma Thurman barefaced, an antidote to their usual red carpet glam-squaddified look. In this way, Lindbergh did a huge service to women who may usually find themselves excluded and bemused by the ultra-perfect portrayal of women in fashion shoots, showing that supermodels and famous actresses come with imperfections too, but proving that they enhanced, rather than detracted from, their inherent beauty.

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Lindbergh may have kept it real but there was a sense of magic and whimsy to his work, too. One shoot he was eager to talk to me about was a 1990 story depicting a love story between Helena Christensen and an alien. “When I saw Helena for the first time, I was flabbergasted,’ he said. ‘I said to her that I had this story in mind that I wanted her to be in — but [asked her not to] work for three months so that nobody would know her face when it came out.’ He remembered how ‘you could really see that they [Helena and the alien] were in love. When he has to leave, she stays in the desert crying’.

The reputation of fashion photography has not been great in recent years, with scandals darkening some of the industry’s most revered names. But Lindbergh’s sympathetic, joyful and timeless images represent the very best of the genre; the outpouring of tributes from supermodels and industry insiders on Instagram following the announcement of his death was testament to that. What woman wouldn’t have loved, after all, to see herself through Lindbergh’s lens.

— The Telegraph

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