As the news of Peter Lindbergh’s death rocks the fashion industry, we reflect on some of his achievements as we look back to our interview with the legendary photographer earlier this year.
It takes a true icon to work with the likes of Brad Pitt, Daniel Wu, Charlize Theron and Adam Driver, so it’s no surprise that the world renowned photographer and film director Peter Lindbergh was chosen to shoot and direct the upcoming campaign for Breitling’s Cinema Squad.
Working with A-listers is something German photographer Lindbergh is used to by now. He has photographed everyone from Kate Moss to Angelina Jolie to David Beckham and so many more in between, capturing their beauty with his trademark cinematic style black and white portraits, that have become iconic and instantly recognizable as the photographer’s signature style.
Growing up in Germany, Lindbergh studied art, before meeting a number of photographers and realizing that this was something he could build a career in. Lindbergh spent two years assisting German photographer Hans Lux before opening his own studio. Lindbergh was influenced by documentary photographers and photojournalists, and soon began to develop a unique style taking inspiration from these. In a time when retouching was heavily used on images, Lindbergh changed the standards of photography, with minimal retouching and minimal hair and make-up in his works, photographing his subjects in a natural state.
Lindbergh soon moved into directing, with a focus on documentaries, he also photographed some of the most iconic music record covers including many of Tina Turner’s singles, Beyoncé’s I am… Sacha Fierce and Lionel Richie’s Time Album.
As Breitling unveils its Cinema Squad and the latest campaign, A&E talks to Peter Lindbergh on what was so magical about this project and what photography means to him.
You are known for working with groups of people, how was it working with the Breitling Cinema Squad?
It was easy because they are all of the same level. Sometimes it can be difficult. I have done other campaigns when there has been a combination of film actresses and TV series actresses together and that was more difficult because they were at different levels and used to different styles. This time we didn’t have that problem and it was very easy.
How was it working with each of the squad members?
We had some scenes where they were together, and some scenes where they were shot singularly and this was when it became very interesting. I did half an hour of shooting each one alone with no direction. I just told them “appear on the set and the camera will go after you, whatever you do.” And that was where you could see the differences between them all.
Brad was really creating magic, he was like James Dean! That kind of magic. And then Adam Driver was making fun the whole time, he created the most incredible little moments. At the time, I didn’t know if I could use any of it, turned out that I was totally wrong!
He did the kind of things you would never really do and that was great. You could really see the difference between them. Charlize was just walking around the set looking fabulous. Daniel was funny too – he did some Kung-Fu. It was uncomfortable when he stopped his foot right in front of my camera!
So each one of them had his/her own thing – for the guys it was a moment, while Charlize was just beautiful – I don’t even need to tell her what to do, to any of them actually. You could see the cast were put together to have a bit of everything and there needs to be a trust between the director and the actor which we had on this project.
How do you feed your creativity and what really inspires you in your work?
It would take me a week to answer that! But to summarize – you feed it all the time. I see it more as a kind of space inside where I collect everything and archive it. Then, whenever I need something I go to that part of my brain. When you look inside yourself to find a solution you know everything you do is your own, and if you don’t have what you need or know where it is, then you look outside. But it’s when you look outside, then you only find solutions that already exist.
I have done two workshops about this. It was funny because the photographers that were there didn’t really know what I was talking about! But the thing is, what I figured out, was that if you never think about it you will never find it because you only find something that you’re looking for. When you do find it, everything is easy and everything is originally yours.
What is your vision of beauty today?
Most people think that beauty has to do with adding components or decorating yourself. You put make-up on and you’re beautiful, or you get a nice haircut and you’re beautiful. I think that it is the opposite. It’s the things that you take away that makes someone more beautiful.
In a frame, what is the first thing you aim to highlight?
Before you get there, there are a lot of things that have to happen. I start shooting very early to develop what I’m looking for. Either you know what you’re looking for before the shoot and you go for that, or you leave it open on purpose and you let you mind guide you until something appears. This is very difficult because everyone wants to know what you’re going to do before the shoot and you have to tell them: “I don’t know yet.” Lots of people look at other photos and want to do something similar but to me, that is ridiculous.
What is one thing you still aim to achieve that you haven’t done yet?
I want to keep on going, to get better and have the perfect balance to develop in the freest way. I want to feel as free as possible and to make everyone on a shoot feel the same.
What are the common codes you have with a brand like Breitling?
Breitling for me is Georges (CEO Georges Kern). I find him very relaxing, and he chooses his teams so that he can let them do what he needs rather than telling them what he wants. Otherwise he wouldn’t really be using your skills. He has always done exactly the same thing.
That’s why Breitling is a success because the best way you can develop something is when you take the right people and know what they can do for you and let them do it and not have to tell them. That’s Georges. He hardly says anything to us, because he knows what we do and he knows he doesn’t have to say anything, it’s the same with the actors. Someone told me I was a great director and I asked why and they said “because he doesn’t say anything and they don’t say anything either.”
How did you develop your love for photography?
Well, I went to art school and had nothing to do with photography. Then when I met photographers I thought it was so brilliant. So I wanted to see what that could be. A really good artist today would say “oh that’s a great concept I’ll do that too” not many look to find something else. That takes longer to think about and that’s what I did. In the meantime I assisted photographers and I figured out pretty fast that it was something that I was really interested in. I assisted for a year and a half and then I opened my own studio. From there it just rolled out.
What is so special to you about black and white images?
The answer to this question keeps changing. Now I am in a place where I am influenced by the American photographers who are making a great impression with the black and white images they are creating. Showing recessions and struggling children, creating powerful images for the congress etc. This is influencing me the most right now.
What do you say no to?
I don’t like saying no. But often I feel like when I say no it’s because I don’t understand something. I feel that even in the most uninteresting, un-spectacular, unglamorous way you can learn a lot, so saying no is difficult.
What do you tell yourself every morning?
I wake up and I always have something to do so I can’t even brush my teeth without thinking.
What are you working on?
I am preparing a huge exhibition in Düsseldorf for 2020. I am working on a new book for Dior. We took 27,000 pictures on the streets of New York – it was very challenging. There are so many things happening, I am always on the go.
How would you like the industry to remember you?
I want them to look back and hear about some strange German guy who did everything differently but seemed to have sold them what he did!