Peter Lindbergh, known for the Pirelli calendar, campaigns for Dior and Vuitton and fashion shoots for Vogue, died Tuesday at age 74.
His passing was revealed on his official Instagram account, which counts 1.3 million followers. The cause of death was not disclosed. “He is survived by his wife Petra, his first wife Astrid, his four sons Benjamin, Jérémy, Simon, Joseph and seven grandchildren,” the post noted.
A prolific photographer whose works hang in museums around the world and feature on the covers of magazines—including this season’s crop on the newsstands—Lindbergh was active until his death. He shot the cover of the September issue of British Vogue, which features over a dozen portraits — a special edition co-edited by Meghan Markle.
Lindbergh favored natural, candid photos in black and white, and shot campaigns for an array of fashion houses, including Prada, Donna Karan, Giorgio Armani, David Yurman and Louis Vuitton.
There is no other photographer she considered “to bring this meaningful project to life,” said the Duchess of Sussex in an Instagram post. “His work is revered globally for capturing the essence of a subject and promoting healthy ideals of beauty, eschewing Photoshopping, and preferring natural beauty with minimal makeup.”
The September cover, which featured Laverne Cox, Sinéad Burke, Greta Thunberg and Jane Fonda, among others, was his eighth for British Vogue over the decades.
“His ability to see real beauty in people, and the world, was ceaseless, and will live on through the images he created. He will be missed by everyone who knew him, worked with him or loved one of his pictures,” said Edward Enninful, editor of British Vogue, who referred to the photographer as a “visionary photographer and dear friend.”
“Peter was interested in truth, and in capturing honesty through his photographs. September was an issue about the real impact of the women we were celebrating, not about artifice, and it made him the only person who could do it true justice,” noted Johan Svensson, creative director of British Vogue and longtime friend of the photographer.
“I remember him being so taken aback by the fact that we photographed Greta Thunberg and Sinead Burke on consecutive days: He said they had the most honest faces he’d seen in a long time; that ordinarily he could go years without even seeing one, but now he had found two in two days. He is someone who, throughout his prolific career, never strayed from his vision, never compromised his aesthetic or his values – and that was truly amazing,” added Svensson.
Illustrating the reach of his work well into his later years, his shoots this year also included Penelope Cruz for Vogue España in Madrid, Vanessa Paradis in Los Angeles for L’Uomo Vogue and Gigi Hadid in Paris for Vogue Arabia.
“He codified a new language, built on the powerful intimacy of his images. A universal code that strongly contributes to the research around femininity. The intensity of his poetical vision will not be forgotten, his story is already legendary,” said Pierpaolo Piccioli, Valentino creative director.
Lindbergh was born in 1944 in Lissa, a Polish town that was under German occupation during World War II. He grew up in Duisberg in the North Rhine region. After working as a window dresser for a local department store, in the early Sixties he enrolled in the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts. A keen interest in Vincent Van Gogh sparked a travel bug, and seeking out the painter’s inspirations, he took to Arles, France. Rejecting a professor’s view that nature-drawing classes were necessary to become an artist, he opted instead to study the landscape and light that served as a backdrop to the Dutch impressionist’s work.
After nearly a year in southern France, he traveled to Spain and North Africa, hitchhiking.
Lindbergh went on to pursue further art studies, focusing on free painting at the College of Art in Krefeld, Germany and presenting his work at the Galerie Denise René — Hans Mayer in the late Sixties.
He turned to photography in the early Seventies, working with Hans Lux before setting up his own studio in 1973. He moved to Paris in 1978, and in the later years of his life, shuttled between Paris, Arles and New York — when he wasn’t traveling.
Lindbergh was synonymous with the supermodel era in fashion and one of his most famous pictures — shot in 1988 for Vogue — captured Estelle Léfebure, Karen Alexander, Rachel Williams, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz and Christy Turlington on the Santa Monica beach wearing only simple, white shirts.
For his famous image known as “The Wild Ones,” Lindbergh outfitted Evangelista, Cindy Crawford and a few other leading models in motorcycle jackets, biker boots and mini skirts and shot them in the then-barren back streets beneath the Manhattan Bridge.
“Nobody lived there,” he said of Dumbo in 1991 in an interview with WWD. “There was not one single shop. I really felt like I was the first person in the world to shoot there. There were only big rats running all over the streets.”
“We live in an epoch that celebrates authenticity as the mark of real beauty, but that’s not always been the case. Even in a time when fashion used to push impossible standards, Lindbergh has always been the voice that chanted the power and the poetry of imperfection, of unretouched, natural beauty,” said Emanuele Farneti, editor in chief of Vogue Italia and L’Uomo Vogue.
“In his pictures, ethics and aesthetics were never far apart, and it’s poignantly beautiful that his last project for L’Uomo Vogue was a tribute to an idea of Europe of peace, tolerance and unity,” added Farneti.
“Peter was one of the greatest photographers in the history of Condé Nast, very closely associated with Vogue, especially Italian, French and British Vogue. There was something unmistakably alive and powerful in his images. They are burned into the memory of people who love and follow fashion. And the man himself was like his images — full of vitality, strength and warmth — and deeply loved in our business,” said Condé Nast chairman Jonathan Newhouse, who knew the photographer for more than 30 years.
Lindbergh was the only photographer to shoot the Pirelli calendar three times, in 1996, 2002 and 2017.
“His work will forever remind us of his vision and his perspective on the world, combined with a simplicity and humanity that made him that special person I had the good fortune to know,” remarked Marco Tronchetti Provera, Pirelli’s executive vice president and chief executive officer.
Speaking to WWD about the calendar’s 2017 edition, Lindbergh, who was known for his cinematic shooting style, explained that he sought to portray his subjects through a more natural lens that he said went against media’s current obsession with retouching.
“The idea of beauty today is a bloody mess. It’s really awful,” he said at the time. “You look in the fashion magazines and see all of these retouched people. Some guys called retouchers go on the computer and take away everything that you are and then call it photography. I think it’s such an insult.”
“For me, every picture is a portrait — no matter what I’m doing. From my very old standpoint, I think everything you do should have a meaning,” he said during another interview. “The idea [that] it doesn’t is unacceptable to me.”
“His stories were truthful, splendid. He was kind and adorable with everybody. He was the one who joked on the set, who embraced you, who laughed, who never forgot your birthday. That’s the way he was — natural as his unretouched photos,” recalled Piero Piazzi, president of modeling agency Women Management.
“His observation of the contemporary world and his unique glance on women and their most hidden values and strengths will be very missed,” observed Miuccia Prada, who had worked with Lindbergh on fashion campaigns since the Nineties.
“He shot many of our campaigns that have strongly marked Prada’s identity, and being so generous he also starred in one of them, a real forerunner,” she added.
Designer Ermanno Scervino noted that Lindbergh held an important role in molding the profession of fashion photography. “His ability to encompass beauty and female strength in a photo was incomparable. The world of fashion today loses an icon,” he said.
Giorgio Armani recalled admiring his photographs before meeting Lindbergh, whom he came to know later working with him on advertising campaigns for the Armani label. “Those images of women allowing a glimpse into a world of sensitivity and emotion; a vital and secret intensity that his eye was able to capture,” he said.
“It was his professional trademark: the use of black and white made his images unforgettable, like current traces of long-gone lives.”
The designer referred to Lindbergh’s “unassailable rigor, willpower, and intensity,” which he attributed to the photographer’s German upbringing in the post-war era.
“A true gentleman in every sense of the word,” said Armani.
Donna Karan recalled working with Lindbergh through the years for various advertising campaigns for her signature label — such as the 1992 woman-running-for-president one and a 1996 one with Demi Moore and Bruce Willis. Iman, Erin O’Connor and Stella Tennant were among the other models that he shot for Karan’s advertising. He also handled campaigns for the DKNY brand with Esther Canadas and Mark Vanderloo, including the iconic gritty black and white images of images of the Manhattan skyline.
“He brought a love out of you. He really talked to the heart and soul of a person. I do not know a person, who did not love and adore Peter,” Karan said. “He made it easy, he made it warm, he made it comfortable, but what he brought out of a woman was unlike any other photographer.”
Recalling Lindbergh’s Oval Office-inspired shots of Rosemary McGrotha, who “was not your typical model,” Karan said, “He brought out the best out of all women. It didn’t matter about your body or your size. He was a partner, but he brought it to a level that was untouchable.”
“He knew how to make a woman feel like a woman,” said Diane Von Furstenberg, who worked with him on campaigns for her label and was also photographed by him.
“He was also a very sexy man…he had this deep voice,” she recalled. “Every woman that he ever photographed will tell you the same thing—he made us feel like the best.”
“I fondly remember his energy, creativity and the positive atmosphere that he created on set with his infectious sense of humor. A great master who, with his timeless aesthetic, will forever remain an inspiration to us all,” said Alberta Ferretti, who worked with Lindbergh on advertising campaigns.
In an interview with WWD in 2015, Lindbergh said he was ranked third among the most frequent flyers on Air France. He also addressed what was lacking in fashion photography: “A lot of photographers seem not to think about what they’re doing or feel any responsibility toward anything. By the time they’re done, the models don’t have any trace of themselves left. This thing about looking young with no wrinkles or expression is all so boring really.”
Milla Jovovich, who worked with Lindbergh numerous times over the years, said Thursday, “In truth, Peter Lindbergh made mini movies except he didn’t use a film camera. His shutter speed was usually on continuous, so every move you made, he captured. The images he was able to get because of this were incredibly real. He captured the ‘moments between moments’ in this way. He didn’t give people a chance to pose, because he’d just shoot everything you did from the moment you came onto a set. It made for an incredibly disarming, but beautifully liberating experience because you knew he was getting every angle – good and bad. So you just had to surrender and ultimately, just be yourself.”
Helena Christensen recalled Wednesday how, after meeting Lindbergh at a studio in Paris in the early Nineties, she immediately proceeded to work with him for the next year solid. “That was unheard of. People thought I was under contract with him, which I wasn’t,” she said. “He booked me for all these amazing stories. And I guess in so many ways, he laid an incredible foundation for my career.”
What Christensen enjoyed most about working with Lindbergh was “his infectious joy. You just wanted to be part of his mind and his imagination and create the stories that he had in there in the best possible way that you could. He just made you so enthusiastic about every single shoot. It was just such a warm and emotional experience to work with him. He was always excited, happy and bursting with ideas. And he gave the best hugs ever. His hugs were so warm and tight and real and genuine,” Christensen said.
Lindbergh’s works extended to film, ranging from the futuristic campaign featuring Marion Cotillard in the California desert as Miss Dior to a film series about death-row inmates.
“Peter Lindbergh was a great artist, who knew better than anyone how to capture the sensuality of the face, the body or an item of clothing…He was an unparalleled partner for creatures of fashion, exalting the beauty of women and men,” said Antoine Arnault, chief executive officer of Berluti and head of communications for LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
Influencer and entrepreneur Chiara Ferragni, who worked with the photographer on a campaign for Pomellato, noted his intensity.
“I’ve worked with Peter just once and he was intense, passionate and authentic. In the photographs he took of me I saw myself differently and, at the same time, there was an intimate feeling in them,” she said.
“Peter Lindbergh’s intimate black-and-white medium had the ability to highlight the most authentic and natural self-expression of a human being. We, at Pomellato, are so proud to have worked with Peter to celebrate real women and I was personally impressed by his strong and kind personality,” said Sabina Belli, ceo of Pomellato.
Jeweler David Yurman worked with the photographer for two decades.
“He was a part of our family and our lives. From our first shoot, he just got us — how we live, how we create, how we see the world — he became part of our DNA,” said David, Sybil and Evan Yurman in a statement.
“His work was about a feeling, evoking joy and light. Peter was always able to capture the essence of a person. His vision was incredibly real and incredibly beautiful. It was magic,” they added.
The photographer was also remembered as a mentor.
“Over the past few years I’ve lost so many mentors. Lindbergh was one of them, he was a great for me and for my generation, he was a guiding light. He had the ability to capture the soul of the models in his black-and-white portraits, bringing emotions to life by stripping the excess off of its images. What really moved me was looking at him holding his camera, he had an introspective attitude. He was among the kindest people in fashion I have ever met. Peter was talkative and with a candid sense of humor, I often had to listen carefully to him to grasp his words,” said Anna Dello Russo, Vogue Japan’s creative director at large.
Babeth Djian of French magazine Numéro, also considered Lindbergh a mentor, and recalled his sense of humor.
“Such a smart guy, smart, elegant funny, more than talented — it never felt like we were working, we laughed so much,” she said.
Several fashion photographers spoke of their admiration for Lindbergh and his influence. Arthur Elgort said, “Although I did not know Peter that well, I always loved his photographs, because they looked real and honest.”
Alexi Lubomirski said, “He was a huge inspiration in terms of someone, who was able to effortlessly extract and display the soul of his subject with the most tender of touches. Rather than a sudden ‘caught moment,’ every frame seemed to possess a fluidity, where one could feel the hair blowing softly across the face and could sense the subject’s eyes sensually glancing up at you.”
Lindbergh was the one photographer whom Lubomirski asked people about the most — those who had worked with him, had been shot by him or just knew him. “People’s opinions of him all shared the same thread: love, kindness and warmth. What better way to be remembered?” he added.
Bruce Weber said, “Besides Peter’s seductively beautiful photographs of so many of our favorite women in pictures, he really made you laugh at our fashion world, but be proud to be a part of it. I adored him and I miss him already.”