Photographer Peter Lindbergh On The Supermodel-Filled Shoot That Changed His Career

When said out loud, "Fashion Week" has a double meaning — and for anyone who's ever been a part of all the action, feeling weak is not only par for the course, it's often the reason we love fashion to begin with. So, in honor of the moments of chaos, beauty, and excitement that made us feel weak, we present My Fashion Week-ness: a compilation of accounts from some of the industry's biggest players. They're spilling their most memorable stories from Fashion Weeks gone by, and the ones that keep them coming back for more.

Iconic photographer Peter Lindbergh's images have been celebrated for decades. Most recently, Lindbergh shot legendary Pirelli calendar, and he's the only person to have shot the calendar three times. This year's edition features some of Lindbergh's friends, like Jessica Chastain, Uma Thurman, Fran Leibovitz, and Nicole Kidman. But when we got a chance to sit down with the man of the hour at Pirelli's "On Beauty" panel at Cipriani's Financial District location in NYC last night, we couldn't help asking about the story behind one of his most famous photographs.
Photo: Courtesy of Pirelli.
(L-R): Fran Leibovitz, Steve McCurry, Peter Lindbergh, Jessica Chastain, and Derek Blasberg.
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While Lindbergh has photographed basically every supermodel from the late '80s through today, his shot of a gaggle of models (including the likes of Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, and Rachel Williams), frolicking on a beach in California, goes down as one of his most memorable. (Plus, it was a gamechanging photograph for all of the models involved.) And the behind-the-scenes story behind the shot sounds like something straight out of The Devil Wears Prada. Or, you know, just a Monday at Vogue.

"People always ask me if my views on women have changed after photographing them for so many years, and I always say no. When I put the supermodels together in 1988 [for that shot], I had the same feeling. I was kind of fed up with women in magazines being presented as so photoshopped, and not as raw. [Photoshopping] is one of the problems with fashion that still exists today. But it's also this idea that you can become the person you want if you buy the clothes; you can pretend to be that person. That's nice, but it's also dangerous.

"When I was in art school, there were kids who would come to class because they wanted to do something and say something — they wanted to express themselves; they had a mission, and it wasn't to have 45 pairs of high heels in their closets. They [simply] wore T-shirts and tennis shoes.

"And that's what I said to Mr. [Alexander] Liberman, who worked for American Vogue at the time. And he said, 'Why don't you show us how that looks?' And that's where the [idea of shooting] white shirts on the supermodels came from. And today, nothing has changed except for the Photoshopping. When I see all of the Photoshopping done to models these days, I could cry. What is a woman who defines herself by how she looks when she's 50, as opposed to a woman [focused on] her experiences in life? And I capture that in my pictures. But then, the retouchers go and airbrush it all off and say, '[now] that's beautiful.' No, it's not."

The iconic photograph was later scrapped by Liberman and shoved in a desk drawer: Anna Wintour rediscovered the photos four years later, after she became editor-in-chief of Vogue, according to Lindbergh. She ended up using only one of the shots, though: Lindbergh recalled that Wintour told him she would have given him the cover and a 20-page spread in Vogue, had he shot the photos during her time helming the magazine.

"But that shoot wasn't even emotional for me, as most of them are. I did that simply for the light; that was the end of the story," Lindbergh told us. "But today, for example, to do the Pirelli calendar required a high amount of emotion. I was emotional because I'm in love with all of the women in the calendar, but it wasn't so much because of the experience [of shooting the calendar] itself, but because they agreed to do it."
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