Peter Lindbergh leaves his legacy of ‘Untold Stories’ in Düsseldorf

Peter Lindbergh leaves his legacy of ‘Untold Stories’ in Düsseldorf

A self-curated survey exhibition of late legendary photographer Peter Lindbergh’s work opens at Kunstpalast Düsseldorf 

Peter Lindbergh still had the story of his complete works to tell. Right up until his death in September 2019, he continued working on ‘Untold Stories’, the first and only exhibition that he ever curated. From February 5 to June 1, the Düsseldorf Kunstpalast will be showing previously unseen aspects of Lindbergh’s work that illustrate the broad spectrum of his oeuvre and leave an unexpected legacy.

Peter Lindbergh was a great photographic narrator. The epic black-and-white picture series he created, featuring expansive beaches, urban canyons, factory sites or gloomy harbour districts as backdrops, were celebrated endlessly in magazine spreads across the world. From Claudia Schiffer to Naomi Campbell, the German photographer transformed models into brands and women into icons. The fashion world all agreed: the image of femininity he defined in the early nineties in the shape of the open, natural and adventurous woman has lost none of its relevance to this day.

Black and white photo of the Nevada desert
Peter Lindbergh, Nevada, 1997 © Courtesy of Peter Lindbergh, Paris

Lindbergh’s sensual images, imbued with intimacy and trust suggest that the person on the other side of the lens meant more to him than fashion, the supposed context of his life’s work. What would he present to his audience as his best works? No one had ever asked him that, until Felix Krämer, the director of the Düsseldorf Kunstpalast since 2017, gave the photographer carte blanche for an exhibition. Lindbergh didn’t want to call it a retrospective, and as the 72-year-old joked in 2017, he still felt too young for it. 

In the two following years, Peter Lindbergh combed his archives, picking out ten dozen from all the hundreds of thousands of photographs that were most important to him. His most renowned works are part of the show, but unseen images also play a significant role: Uma Thurman, lying in half shade, 2016, an un-styled dark-haired Claudia Schiffer from 1997 and Naomi Campbell in 2000 in Ibiza. ‘It was like grappling with life and death,’ Lindbergh is quoted as saying last July in the exhibition catalogue. This goes some way to explaining how hard it must have been for him to make the final selection.

‘Testament’ is the title of the part of his show that reveals an atypical side of the German photographer and exemplifies his ability to cross the boundaries of fashion photography and contemporary art. The video work from 2013 shows a death row inmate gazing at himself in the mirror for thirty minutes. The film is moving, and the gaze of the inmate is difficult to bear. Also as a documentarist beyond the world of fashion, Lindbergh reveals human frailty without exposing it. Introspection, expression, empathy and freedom were the themes that he was concerned with all his life. ‘Essentially, the film deals with the impossibility of being truly free,’ he said in an interview with Felix Krämer. The Duisburg-born photographer was also political; he wanted to penetrate beneath the surface, which becomes particularly palpable in ‘Testament’. As one of the previously unseen works, it is one of the ‘untold stories’ that gives the exhibition in Kunstpalast Düsseldorf its name. Lindbergh had been working on this retrospective during the last few weeks of his life, finishing it six days before his death. The fact that he gave so much space to this work could well be Lindbergh’s true legacy.

What is fashion photography? What should it be? These were the questions that Lindbergh confronted as he developed his most personal exhibition to date. He now passes these questions on to his audience. §

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