Peter Lindbergh on Supermodels, Spoken Word and a New Show of His 90s Photographs

Two of the Peter Lindbergh photographs to go on view
(Courtesy of Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld)

In the 90s, Polish-born photographer Peter Lindbergh's stark black-and-white portraits of statuesque models like Linda Evangelista, Christie Turlington, Stephanie Seymour, and Naomi Campbell helped usher in the personality-driven supermodel craze. "It was a change from rather formal women, quite perfectly styled and concerned about social integration and judgment, to more outspoken and adventurous women who controlled their own lives and were emancipated from masculine protection and social rules,” he told curator Jerome Sans. “Supermodels represented this life and this change, and that’s why their images dominated the visual world for the next fifteen years.”

"Peter Lindbergh with poetry by Forrest Gander" contains thirty-five of these photographs and spans two floors of Vladmir Restoin Roitfeld’s Upper East Side gallery, on view through October 4. In addition to his fashion photography — editorial work for Harper's Bazaar, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and Vogue, as well as advertisements for Giorgio Armani, Jil Sander, Prada, Calvin Klein, and Comme des Garçons — the exhibition foregrounds Lindbergh’s lesser-known landscapes, portraits, and still lifes. Accompanying the photos are spoken-word recordings by poet Forrest Gander, a Mohave Desert native who shares Lindbergh’s romantic sensibilities and lyrical interpretations of nature.

ARTINFO spoke with Lindbergh about his upcoming show...

How did this exhibition come about?

Vladimir and I knew each other for quite a while through Carine [Roitfeld, his mother] and from her amfAR events in Cannes. I was impressed seeing him open this gallery and doing the shows he did. When he came to us to propose a show, we did not think long, as it is very exciting to work with him as a great young spirit.

Your work is often talked about in terms of pioneering a minimalist aesthetic. Would you agree with that label?

I don't think so. I don't follow trends at all and I try to concentrate on women and photography rather than fashion trends. I think photography is a wonderful instrument to register life, express yourself and show your point of view.

The exhibition juxtaposes your photographs with poetry by Forrest Gander. What is the relationship between your work and his?

This idea came up because I knew Forrest's poems and love them. Beside this, the fact that he comes from the Mohave Desert — where many of my pictures have been shot — made him the perfect choice. I just love the idea of words and images together and think that one will inspire or enrich the other. Forrest wrote this text specially for the exhibition. When you're in the gallery you'll hear his voice reading his own writings over a special sound system.

Is there a photograph in the exhibition that is particularly special to you?

I think, but this might change from day to day, my favorite portrait in the show is Amber Valletta looking down on 5th Avenue from a Rockefeller Center balcony. There is nothing done with this portrait and still, [but] there is an incredible magic in her face.

Your photographs are well known for privileging the model over the clothes. Would you say that your work catalyzed the supermodel phenomenon?

I think of myself photographing women and making statements about women rather than fashion. 

What project are you working on next?

We're working on two big museum exhibitions, one gallery show, and two book projects. For April 2014 there will be a big exhibition in Zagreb, Croatia, including retrospective work, new work, and films. We’re also anticipating a gallery exhibition at David Fahey in Los Angeles in the beginning of 2014. A 300-page book will be published by Schirmer/Mosel. It will be a continuation of the first book, "Images of Women," showing my work from 1995-2013.