He said the first supermodels were highly intelligent, engaging women. “They were in possession of a purpose, they
were able to talk about something other than fashion, they were excited about everything and wanted to be artists,
to try something different — they were collaborators,” he explained. They were also in possession of such incredible
natural radiance that Lindbergh insisted on the minimum of make-up and where possible, eschewed image retouching. He
firmly believed that there could be no beauty without truth.
Somewhat counterintuitively, realism was what drew Lindbergh to photographing almost exclusively in black and white.
“I used to think that black and white is an interpretation of reality, so a little bit of art comes into it. But now
I think that it is about truth.” He suggested that the documentary photographers of the Great Depression changed our
perception of the medium. “People like Dorothea Lange, they worked in black and white, they photographed the
problems of America at the time and brought the pictures back to congress, where important laws were made based on
these pictures — child labour laws and this kind of thing. In my head, I think now, black and white is linked to
truth and reality.”
Lindbergh said he felt liberated by the greater agility the digital revolution has brought to photography. “All those
professional guys who like to come with five tripods and six suitcases to do a picture, so they look professional?
Well, they look a little old now,” he said. “I was always trying to find a way to shoot more accidentally or
lighter, not forcing everyone to hold still in front of the tripod. I can’t do the tripod thing any more.” He did
like to be well prepared for a shoot, he said, but it was more about “creating a space where anything can happen.
You make all the preparations, and then when you start shooting, you forget about it all.” The most important thing
when shaping images, Lindbergh said, is freedom. “I could never do movie following a script, from the second day I’d
be in totally different places.”
In addition to photographing the biggest models of the past three decades, Lindbergh shot numerous leading lights
from cinema, including Nicole Kidman, Uma Thurman, Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett
and Angelina Jolie. “The main difference between actors and models is that actors have learned not to look into the
camera, to kind of forget the camera. Whereas models are briefed to look into it,” Lindbergh said. “Sometimes it's
really difficult to get an actor to look in the camera, you have to help them.”
He said he’d long ago ceased being star-struck by his subjects. “That has totally gone. Maybe with the Dalai Lama I
would be a little shy for a second,” he thought. “But being shy is not a good way to start making a picture. You
cannot come to take a photograph and feel like the underdog — although, at the same time, you shouldn’t be arrogant.
Wim Wenders once said his attitude with actors is, ‘I don’t try to impress you, but you can’t impress me either.’
That’s a dynamic you can base the relationship on, you know?”
Lindbergh and I met at the launch of his campaign for Breitling, featuring his photographs of Brad Pitt, Charlize
Theron, Daniel Wu and Adam Driver. Like all successful photographers, Lindbergh’s career was a mix of editorial and
commercial work, shooting ads for the likes of Dior, Prada and Armani. He considered both equally legitimate uses of
his skills. “I once had a discussion with ArtForum magazine,” Lindbergh recalled. “They asked the question, ‘When
you create a work to order, to a commission, to a specification, how can that be art?’ I replied, ‘Well then, the
museums are going to have to throw a lot of paintings out, because Titian, Michelangelo, all these guys, they all
worked on demand.’”
Of the old masters, Lindbergh joked, “Can you imagine the whores they were? They were all fighting for places on
courts and painting whatever the king or the lord liked. They would get a detailed contract for every painting — for
how the picture would look, ensuring the king’s woman would not look fat or ugly, even though she probably was. It
was kind of Photoshop on contract, before Photoshop existed.” The late, great Peter Lindbergh, meanwhile, built a
career upon keeping it real — championing naturalism, rendering the truth in plain black and white.