Lindbergh was working on an exhibition – the first and last he curated – titled Untold Stories when he passed last year at the age of 74
In 2019, seminal fashion image-maker Peter Lindbergh began working on a new exhibition, Untold Stories, which opened yesterday evening at Düsseldorf’s Kunstpalast. The landmark retrospective marks the first-ever exhibition curated by Lindbergh himself, selecting images from a four-decade spanning career in which time he immortalised the world’s most famous women, from Nicole Kidman and Charlotte Rampling to Uma Thurman, as well as a raft of models who defined the 1990s – Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss among them. But the self-curated exhibition also marks his last: this past September, Lindbergh died, aged 74, leaving with him an indelible mark on the worlds of fashion and photography alike.
It gives the exhibition – and accompanying book, Peter Lindbergh: Untold Stories, published by Taschen – a poignant air. Encompassing over 150 photographs, many of which were unpublished or short-lived, having been taken for monthly magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Interview and Rolling Stone (Lindbergh also contributed to AnOther Magazine, most recently shooting Solange Knowles for the A/W17 cover), Untold Stories is a testament to his intimate but nonetheless cinematic style, which favoured reality over artifice. “This should be the responsibility of photographers today to free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection,” he once said. “If you take out the fashion and the artifice, you can then see the real person.”
It was to be the maxim for his entire career, in which he would continue to favour humanity and truth in his photographs, even as he captured evermore famous names. His 2017 Pirelli calendar – which features, in part, in Untold Stories – saw him capture Kidman, Thurman, Julianne Moore, Penelope Cruz, Kate Winslet and others in a series of stripped-down portraits, where subjects wore simple clothing and no discernable make-up. Asked why his calendar didn’t feature nudes, as was once the tradition, he replied: “my photographs reveal another kind of naked, more important than body parts.”
It is Lindbergh’s work with models, though, which has proved most enduring: back in 1989, he assembled five then-relatively unknown models for a British Vogue shoot in downtown New York. The following January, the five women – Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Tatjana Patitz, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington – were on the magazine’s January 1990 cover. It was to usher in the frenzied era of the supermodel and would make the women international stars – purportedly the cover caused George Michael to cast the line-up in his Freedom ‘90 video. Many of those women appear among the book’s pages, including the cover, on which a 1988 photograph of Evangelista sees her dressed as a nun alongside Kirsten Owen and Michaela Bercu (the latter of which Lindbergh shot for Anna Wintour’s inaugural cover of American Vogue).
Lindbergh would work up until the very end: just prior to his death, he had photographed 15 women for the cover of the September 2019 issue of British Vogue, guest edited by the Duchess of Sussex. He remains one of the 20th and 21st centuries’ greatest image-makers, whose work has long transcended fashion to become a valued commodity in its own right, much like the work of German compatriots Helmut Newton and Hans Feurer before him. Untold Stories stands as a powerful and personal testament to his extraordinary career.
“The first time I saw my photographs on the walls of the exhibition mock-up, I was startled, but in a positive way,” Lindbergh says in an interview which features in the book. “It was overwhelming to be thus confronted with who I am.”
Peter Lindbergh: Untold Stories is on at the Kunstapalast, Düsseldorf from February 5 – June 1, 2020.
Peter Lindbergh: Untold Stories, published by Taschen, is available now.