Peter Lindbergh in his last interview with Vogue Germany

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Last week, Alexandra Bondi de Antoni, executive editor of, travelled to Paris to visit star photographer Peter Lindbergh in his studio. Sadly, the podcast episode she recorded with him for the first season of the podcast, , proved to be the last interview he would ever give; Peter Lindbergh died on Tuesday 3 September, aged 74. Here, you can read an excerpt from the interview – and listen to the entire podcast episode.

How has the fashion industry changed since you started?

“Incidentally, I have now been in Paris for 40 years. And very early on, it was all about fashion houses – the designer was practically the house. Today, we have a corporate system where talented designers are placed in something they have not founded, which they only have to half-respect, and make personal contributions. That’s also very interesting. But it’s a very different feeling. I still remember everything, right back to the beginning. I shot the campaign for Jil Sander, Prada, Armani, and you were always friends with the designers there, and the house belonged to them. It did not feel more original or creative. It was just a different feeling, like a family restaurant. That was all completely different from big corporations. Today, it’s more about the numbers. As a designer, that has to be terribly stressful. The press says, ‘That was the greatest collection we’ve ever seen’. Then you start to think that you can rest a bit, sit down. Then someone from the finance department comes and says, ‘It did not sell at all’. Terrible – and not just for you: you are also responsible for someone who has invested a lot of money in it. You can feel that, too.”

Do you sometimes miss it, that family feeling?

“Yes, of course I miss that, also because I was younger and people did not have such immense respect for me. It’s awful; it’s like a wall around you. People say, ‘It’s an honour to meet you’.”

What do you say when someone says, “It’s an honour to meet you”?

“Do not say such nonsense. What’s that supposed to mean? I thought we were having a nice conversation just now [laughs].”

The first Vogue you worked for was American , right? 

“Funnily enough, the first one was British and I was allowed to contribute three crumpled pages at the back of the magazine. I was told: ‘Young man, do you know what you’re doing? This is British, so you’d better be good.’ It was really the last piece in the back, which no one looks at anyway. And then I started working for Italian . And that highlights the differences. I always try to make this clear to the photographer: The photographers themselves have to be flexible, they have to adapt. For example, when I work for Anna [Wintour], that’s completely different from Italian – from the beginning, from idea inception, from preparation, with everything. That’s fun. Some say, ‘That’s commercial, it’s the kind of thing you would do for American ’. And I say, ‘You’re nuts! That’s not commercial at all’. […] I’ve done a lot of nice, narrative stuff for them.” 

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The first American cover you had back then was completely taboo: couture linked with jeans. The story is widely known. Do you think that could still do that today? Is there anything else that could make the kind of waves this cover did back then?

“No, because everything is out there now. Think of the many hundreds of covers that Steven Meisel has created for Italian : practically everything that could be done, has been done. If you want to do something revolutionary now [it’s more difficult]. It was a completely different situation at the time. There were very fixed rules; it was all close-ups with a turban and perfect makeup, retouched – beautiful. When Anna got there, she just had the feeling that that was all over. That jeans story… it wasn’t me that started that massive revolution. I just let it be. The camera frame is a bit longer than the body, so you have to leave some room to crop the image. Leave the jeans, and you don’t need to do anything – and just let it remain. The revolutionary act, that was all Anna, because she said: ‘That’s great, let’s leave it like that.’ She had the courage to do that – and practically gave the world a great big slap. That was crazy then.”

What was it like to work with Franca Sozzani for Italian ?

“Italian was always totally free. It was incredible how Franca Sozzani protected us, the three photographers she loved. They could do what they wanted. To have such support, that was indescribable, to have that kind of backing. We often did not talk about what we were doing. She always said, ‘Do it.’ And that was it. So you could do what you wanted. And Franca was always slightly offended and wanted to get me to create fewer double-pages, because then she loses credit. And I thought to myself: ‘Franca, come on! It’s great; on a vertical page, you can’t see anything – everything is cropped out.’ She said, ‘Yes, but I need it.’ Then we made double pages anyway and then she said nothing. Franca was, in any case, something special. You are, of course, very spoiled if you get to work like that. Very spoiled, I have to say.”

You also often work together with Christiane [Arp, editor-in-chief of Germany].

“The great thing is, Christiane only comes up with great stuff. Christiane just comes in and says, ‘Say, wouldn’t you want to do this? Karl (Lagerfeld) has this painter in Belgium that he loved so much, and you also worked in Deauville forever, and Karl, too – so let’s just drive to Deauville and do something great out there, inspired by the paintings.’ When Christiane comes to me, mostly with stories that you can say a bit more about, she knows – in contrast to what everyone says about me – that the idea that I find fashion stupid and that I’m not interested in fashion is totally wrong. I just don’t base the photos I take on the fashion itself. That’s not the starting point for me; I don’t go ‘Ah, collection was…’.” 

One cover that you’ve just published is the September issue of British, guest edited by Meghan Markle to showcase great women moving and shaking the world. Is fashion political? Should fashion be political?

“So, they all looked very nice, and the fashion was very nice. But that was not the focal point, as is usually the case in September. It was a beautiful statement that they all made. And Edward (Enninful), the editor-in-chief, is one of those people who makes me think: Great! We just kept it running and did not try to have a point of view with the fashion. We actually wanted to do something completely different, and then we just slipped in there. So it ended up looking the way it did.” 

You often say that it is the job of photographers to free women. What must we be freed from today?

“Women must be freed from the idea that they always have to stay young and that they must disfigure themselves at a certain age. That’s how all traces of life disappear. After all, you gather, in a sense, what you’ve lived through in your face and body. If you have a nose that [you think] does not suit you and you spend your whole life thinking ‘I am so ugly’ and you then do something about it and are pleased that the nose is now sharper, and feels more like how you’ve always wanted to look: wonderful. Nobody should take that away from you. But these youth complexes are so nonsensical.” 


How does it feel to know that right now, you are influential? 

“That feels really good [laughs]. I have to say, honestly, I wanted to lie just now, but it makes you happy, that you have clearly been relevant.” 

Do you think that being influential is still possible today? 

“Of course. It’s always possible. Today is no different than the day before yesterday. It’s always the same thing, presented in a different way. Some think that it was so much easier in the past. It has never been easier. It is not difficult today. It’s just the way it is.”

How do you connect with yourself?

“I have been meditating for 40 years. It makes it a bit easier to know who you are. You just have to find a way to access all the things that you have seen. Everything you see, everything you hear and smell, and everything you say, remains within. It’s there, in you, and you have to use it. Most people don’t know that. They carry the biggest treasure in the world with them.” 

Is there anything that you are afraid of?

“No, not anymore. Not in a long time. I have extreme ‘no fear’ [laughs]. What kind of language is that? I mean: extreme lack of fear.”

How do you deal with negative feelings?

“I’m indestructible. There are so many things about me that make me indestructible.”

Maybe that plays a part in you not being afraid, no negative feelings? 

“I do not have negative feelings. But that’s great, I think, when you know you’re invulnerable. I can’t think of what anyone could do to me that would send me reeling. There are people who have a little skin cancer on their big toe and jump out the window. The only thing would be if something terrible were to happen to my children. That could completely floor me. But nothing else.” 

How do you know when you’ve done something right, or that something feels right? 

“It’s also connected to meditating. Which is underestimated, how precisely and comprehensively you get to know yourself. With it comes a lot of discernment, also in connection with the creativity and the hidden things that are tucked away within oneself and that start to transcend and become available to you. You get closer to yourself when you give yourself time. It is an insane instrument, which does you a lot of good. It’s just there, it’s right in front of people and nobody wants to see it.” 

Do you sometimes experience doubt within this process as well? 

“Not anymore. There is nothing to doubt. You always reach the source of the solution when you take a step back. If you’re just a follower, you never know why you are doing something. Then you can’t know if something is good or not. How would you know that what you thought is right, if you didn’t think it? [Laughs] It’s that simple. Nobody thinks about that.” 

Is there anything else that amazes you today? 

“What really amazes me is when someone is really nice to someone else, and gains nothing from it. When you look at all the criminal politicians, then it astounds me to see someone completely different; the Prime Minister of New Zealand, for instance. It’s really amazing that that kind of woman can be a politician. Where it’s not these usual tired phrases, whereby people just want to keep what they already have and believe that’s politics. My interest is in geopolitics. When you see the mess that is created in countries like Venezuela and how it is then sold to the poor, I think ‘what a tragic world we live in’.” 

In the last , there was an article in which centenarians talked about what moved them in life, but also what they regretted. Many said that the only thing they regret is that they misplaced their priorities and lost things or made wrong decisions. While you are not 100 years old, far from it, can you relate to that? 

The wrong decision was that I worked too much. That I have had too little time for everything around me. I was never so attracted to the glamorous world. That never impressed me. My children and grandchildren impressed me more. I always thought that I was the best father in the world because I just loved them. Looking back, I do not think it was true, because I was not there half the time. But that’s not a crazy thing to regret.”

What does ageing mean to you? 

“It’s actually not a tragedy. As far as work or my mind are concerned, a lot is much better than it used to be. You think so differently about things. When someone approaches you, and you’d never really noticed them before. Suddenly, you see these people and recognise them. You get a lot more out of it.”

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career? 

“That is quite easy. Never think that you did anything great. As soon as you do, everything great disappears. One should not give too many interviews. One can work much more positively in obscurity. If someone ever said to me, ‘You know you’re the best fashion photographer in the world.’ I would wave that off. Today, I caught myself thinking ‘Actually, it is true, is there anyone better out there?’ [Laughs] After that, I thought, ‘Heavens, you really caught yourself there.’” 

The full podcast episode by Germany can be streamed on Spotify, Apple and Soundcloud

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