Exactly two years have passed since one of those who can be called Maestro with confidence. Peter Lindbergh passed away in September 2019. Only two years have passed, but his name is still on the lips, and photo books are flying around. I personally could not buy the album, because the new edition was sold out in a few days. A couple more decades will pass, and nothing will change, even if a new star rises in the firmament of photography.
Great portrait painter
Lindbergh was one of the most famous fashion photographers of our time. Only the word fashion does not fit in with him: yes, he shot for big brands and major fashion publications, only he shot just people, without a touch of gloss. On his frames are unknown or non-professional models (of course, after that the whole world learned about them). He personally selected models every time, he was trusted.
It’s all about the approach and style in which the master worked: magazines gave complete freedom to shoot anyone and anywhere, as long as they were pictures by his hand. I tried to subjectively analyze, to calculate what obeys the laws of art, in order to understand the components of its style.
Lindbergh became a photographer by accident. His career as an artist did not work out, and the future master successfully turned up the opportunity to get a job as a photographer’s assistant in order to earn extra money. Then Lindbergh’s corporate style is laid: unnaturalness in poses and staging in the frame are alien to him.
In the first commercial shot for US Vogue, little-known models with tousled hair fool around on the beach in Santa Monica — and this is at a time when fashion publications were dominated by the image of a woman with rich makeup and a crocodile bag. Of course, at that moment he was immediately shown the door.
Everything changed when Anna Wintour became the head of Vogue, who found a preserved Lindbergh beach shot in the table. It was she who gave him complete freedom to shoot as he wanted, as long as it was a shoot of his authorship: “This is the image of a new modern woman.”
How did Lindbergh work?
Color and B&W! Don’t jump to conclusions by looking at the first pictures in a search engine: Peter not only shot B&W, he also took color photos. True, even at the dawn of a career. In the later years of creativity, these were almost exclusively black and white photographs. I do not think that he was afraid of color or did not know how to work with it (early covers refute this: the photographer competently interacts with color in the frame, in places there are noticeable classic combinations). Most likely, he chose BW for the contrast and the large palette of midtones that he can give. A black and white picture shifts the focus to the person who is in it, regardless of the surrounding space.
In addition, a black and white picture removes the issue of color in favor of the work of light. And the last one in the Lindbergh pictures is enough. Enough to call it one of his characteristic tricks. The photographer uses the game with shadows, tonal perspective, the contrast of dark and light, the pattern of chiaroscuro.
Angles. Lindbergh almost always worked at an angle of 90, a direct angle in front of the person. Not from the bottom up and not from the top down. There were exceptions, but they were rare. Photos not from the hip: the camera is at the level of the torso or head of the photographer, even if he was shooting from a tripod.
Lindbergh built photographs according to the golden ratio and the rule of thirds. He arranged the person in the frame along the axes. Although sometimes Lindbergh broke the rules so that the head of the model rested exactly on the edge of the frame, filled up the horizon to add dynamics.
Diagonal elements can also be seen in the maestro’s works: another trick to turn static into dynamics. The arrangement of objects diagonally immediately makes the frame more alive.
Street shooting. They do not take up much space in his portfolio, but the way he works in the city is indicative. We are talking about classic street stories when a campaign for a brand or shooting for a magazine is done in a crowded place. The photographer allows this place to remain natural. He does not expect empty streets or a polished frame. Passers-by caught in the frame, people at neighboring tables, smoke from hatches, signs, advertising and passing cars — all this is there, like invited guests in his pictures. This technique makes the main subject of shooting — the model — contrast.
Working with a person
To be youreself. Probably so, very briefly it is possible to formulate the main principle of approach to a person in Lindberg’s frame. Ever since that card on the beach, the master has always allowed people to just be in the frame. Without arrogance and artificial postures. This is what makes his work so powerful!
There is an unwritten rule in portrait photography: a good portrait is one in which the person’s pose is natural. Otherwise, it is not perceived by the eye: in real life, people don’t walk / sit / stand / etc. like that. Naturalness reveals a person. And yes, there he can already be languid, sublime, cheerful, sad, funny, elegant. But only if it’s about him.
Lindbergh allowed everyone to be themselves. Unfortunately, it is impossible to ask the photographer himself. Even classic fashion shoots are still different in mood. The languid model facial expression, where it is present in Lindbergh’s heroes, does not look feigned. It is like this because it is natural. He is not a sculptor, he is an observer of a living person and his emotions. People in Peter’s frame are having fun or being sad, thinking, smoking or eating, laughing, fooling around and straightening their hair. They are natural.