Peter Lindbergh’s Supermodels

Peter Lindbergh’s illustrious career is synonymous with the rise of the supermodel. This photograph, taken on the beach in Santa Monica, California in 1988 marks the beginning of this history. Commissioned for American Vogue, Lindbergh shot Estelle Lefebure, Karen Alexander, Rachel Williams, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz and Christy Turlington all in uniform crisp white shirts tightly grouped together. This print is one of several shots from the day, closely cropped it focuses on the closeness of the women as they powerfully return the viewer’s gaze.

At the time, the informal appropriation of the dress shirts and the laid-back styling of the models was unprecedented, representing a significant change in the idea of femininity. Throughout his career Lindbergh has championed the expression of female beauty, always looking for unusual and raw qualities which he regards as the more interesting than the perfectionism sought in most fashion photography. Lindbergh was also one of the earliest fashion photographers to include the instruments of the photograph’s making. His photographs reveal the staged nature of the shoots, often including studio lights and wiring within the frame of the image.

The photographs from the shoot in Santa Monica were originally scrapped by Alexander Liberman of American Vogue, who rejected them and left them in a desk drawer. Four years later, Anna Wintour, who had taken over as editor-in-chief discovered them and published one from the series in the magazine. The series was the starting point for Lindbergh’s long career in the fashion world, and he continued to shape the careers of the supermodels throughout the 1990s. Most famously, he took the outrageous decision to photograph a group of models, including Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell, on the streets of downtown New York, complete with biker jackets motorcycles. This image was a first for Vogue, which had always restricted itself to the Upper East Side of the city, and ushered in the grunge era. The formula of a group of young models in dynamic and alternative settings was taken from the ‘white shirts’ shoot, and is a motif that Lindbergh would repeat throughout his career.

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