Remembering Peter Lindbergh Through His Own Eyes

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When legendary German photographer Peter Lindbergh passed away in September of last year, the fashion community mourned a monumental loss. Models like Helena Christensen took to Instagram to post tributes: “Through your lens, I was allowed to blossom, to grow up, to remain myself and to express all the different sides of the woman I was growing into. You captured all of that in the most profound and poetic way.”

A new exhibition entitled Untold Stories opening on February 5, 2020 at the Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, Germany, encompasses not only Christensen’s sentiment, but also aims to show diverse sides of Lindbergh’s lifetime oeuvre. It was a huge undertaking that the artist himself curated and completed days before he passed away. And none of it has changed according to his original plans.

Felicity Korn, Adviser to the Director General of the Kunstpalast, tells CR, “The exhibition is 100 percent Peter Lindbergh. He used the exhibition to go through all his photographs he’d ever taken and it took him about one and a half years to finalize the selection. We met with him regularly over that period but we let him have free rein. In the end, he made all of the decisions.”

The museum retrospective includes over 140 photos spanning Lindbergh’s 40-year career. His signature style embraced a form of raw beauty in black and white eschewing heavy makeup and over-the-top garments. Instead, his photographic universe played with light and shadows and aesthetic compositions. Lindbergh also had the innate talent of getting to know the people who posed for his portraits.

Korn, who worked directly with the photographer, admits these insights about Lindbergh behind his lens: “He was an extremely warm, kind and heartfelt person. He was open, respectful and down-to-earth in a way,” she says. “And that’s something you don’t expect even though you read it everywhere. He had a gift to connect with people which is one of the reasons why his portraits are so great.”

Model-actress Milla Jovovich similarly described Lindbergh: “I also had such a sense of freedom and the feeling of being truly appreciated for being exactly who I was. Of course later I realized that was his magic. Making people feel so special. Making people feel…important and wonderful. It’s what made him such a brilliant artist.”

Lindbergh was born in Leszno, German-occupied Poland in 1944, and spent his childhood in Duisburg, Germany. As a teenager, he worked as a window dresser for a major department store. He studied abstract art at the Kunsthochschule College of Art in Krefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia, and at the age of 27 he took up photography in Düsseldorf, assisting photographer Hans Lux before opening up a studio of his own in 1973.

Lindbergh has collaborated with some of the biggest names in fashion, music and film and his 1989 black and white portrait of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, and Christy Turlington on the streets of New York City’s Meatpacking District became a defining moment in fashion history. That image alone ushered in the age of the ’90s supermodel: pop cultural icons like George Michael and his “Freedom 90 video as well as Gianni Versace’s fashion shows drew inspiration from his vision of five fresh faces in neutral tops with next-to-no makeup to be seen.

But Lindbergh was more than just a fashion photographer, and he attempted to chronicle his story and multifaceted career through Untold Stories. “What he does in the exhibition is the hanging and the arrangement of the work,” says Korn. “He finds combinations and pairings that are unique and change the reading of the individual pictures. And those are the untold stories he wanted to tell. His work includes many photographs that aren’t classic fashion shoots and he put emphasis on those.”

Untold Stories might just be the memorial the fashion world can experience as Lindbergh wanted to be remembered—through his own eyes. And even though his absence is sorely missed, this museum show somehow brings closure to a beloved fashion figure.

Korn concludes, “I think there are a lot of surprising images that show a different side of Peter. On the other hand, it’s just a nice way of saying good-bye. The exhibition spans his entire work. This is sort of the last chance of somehow feeling close to him because this is somehow what he left to us.”

Peter Lindbergh: Untold Stories is on view at the Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, Germany from February 5, 2020 through June 1, 2020.

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