Legendary Fashion Photographer Peter Lindbergh, 74, Has Passed Away

"The first rule of beauty is truth."

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.

At the top of New York Fashion Week spring 2020, German fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh has died. He was 74 years old.

The industry veteran’s death was confirmed via his official Instagram account in a post that read: “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Peter Lindbergh on September 3rd 2019… He is survived by his wife Petra, his first wife Astrid, his four sons Benjamin, Jérémy, Simon, Joseph and seven grandchildren. He leaves a big void.” A void so vast, indeed, that as the fashion industry heads into one of its busiest times of the year, it does so with one foot forward and one knee firmly on the ground, in his honor.

Lindbergh, credited for his knack for minimal, black-and-white photography, lensed some of the most famous celebrities in the world. However, he’s most known for his work with the supermodels: from that shot on the beach that saw Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz, and others in white button-downs; Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, and more on the streets of New York; or Michaela Bercu in Christian Lacroix and jeans on the cover of Anna Wintour’s first Vogue. Lindbergh’s photographs launched an entire era.

But despite the fact that an entire industry would describe Lindbergh’s pictures as “timeless,” the candid photographer didn’t really think such a thing existed. And when it came to beauty, Lindbergh explained it simply as the concept of being oneself — nothing more, nothing less. He also thought of selfies and Photoshop as “pretty much the stupidest thing that there is at all”. In an age when the art of fashion photography, which Lindbergh saw as “gone to the dogs”, is reduced to a simple word — “content” — Lindbergh’s passing marks the end of an era.

Born in Leszno, Poland, in 1944, Lindbergh studied at the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts. In 1973, he opened his first studio in Dusseldorf. His photographs for Vogue left a unique mark on the ‘90s; to say that Lindbergh was a minimalist is an understatement. And his eschewing of expensive clothes and over-the-top hair and makeup was integral to his work: “The first rule of beauty is truth,” he told CNN in 2016.

Photo: Ron Gallela/Getty Images.

Because Lindbergh was one of those photographers whose photos you knew were his; not because they’re mostly, if not wholly, colorless — but because for no rhyme or reason other than who or what was in front of it just was. It’s why he was commissioned to shoot the iconic Pirelli calendar more than once. And it’s why Instagram is ablaze with tributes from his friends in fashion and will be for some time. 

As far as how the industry should move forward? The next few week’s worth of designs and newness should help ease the pain of the latest legend lost. But it’d do even better to rely on Lindbergh’s words as much a his photographs: “If photographers are responsible for creating or reflecting an image of women in society, then, I must say, there is only one way for the future, and this is to define women as strong and independent. This should be the responsibility of photographers today: to free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection.” That, Lindbergh reminded us, starts behind the camera.

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