Peter Lindbergh was a master of photography and will go down in history as one of the all-time greats. Below, I have rounded up the best Peter Lindbergh quotes from interviews, documentaries, and books to hopefully inspire you and help take your photography to the next level.
If you want to learn more about his incredible story and his legendary career, then check out my article Peter Lindbergh: The Man Who Changed the Face of Fashion Photography
Peter Lindbergh Quotes On…
What Makes a Good Photo
If viewing the picture triggers emotions, of whatever kind, and perhaps touches something in you that you find important.
I think a great image, first of all – however it looks – it has to have a purpose. And when it has a purpose, then after, you can tell what aesthetics and many other things. But I think the purpose is the most important thing. And then after the purpose, of course, if it’s a boring, visually boring message, then it’s not really a great picture at all.
I think that good pictures come from passion, but it’s a different passion than sex. I photograph a woman not because she has a perfect nose or a perfect body, but because of a strong feeling, I have about her. And that feeling comes from her character, from real depth, from being special.
For another story, I did not even look through the camera, meaning that I was as surprised as everyone else by what was to be seen on the photos. That was the way I did black-and-white photos on the streets of New York for Vogue in Italy, using a small autofocus camera. That approach completely eliminates all you ever learned about composition. And throwing all the compositional rules overboard ensures everything is slightly less conventional. Since the miniature camera meant that the persons photographed felt less observed the product were interesting images as regards the way they captured the models’ personalities.
Finding your Style
There is one simple sentence from the Japanese Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki: “To express yourself as you are, without any intentional fancy way of adjusting yourself, is the most important thing.” I think following Shunryu’s thinking would be the most revolutionary and useful act, concerning photography and everything else.
Photographers don’t need my advice. They just need to photograph and look at what they’ve done. During my studies at the Fine arts in Krefeld, near Düsseldorf, when I wanted to become a conceptual artist, not once did my teacher tell me anything. I really enjoyed it. If Cartier-Bresson explains to someone how he works, he does not become Cartier-Bresson.
At first, you devote yourself to photography, just as you could devote yourself to being a lawyer. You follow your instinct, you do things, it all follows a direction. At first, you’re searching, you don’t really know what for, and gradually you realize that you can express a great many things with photography.
In the past, maybe nobody had any ideas, so they went to Helmut Newton to solve their problems. Today the problem is the opposite: everybody has ideas. The result is that the most extraordinary thing a photographer/artist can do today is to continue working without losing his or her own personal style. In the end, it is essential to remain, photographers, not employees.
I show elements of the set in my pictures because it’s not real. When I see movies, I often love the ‘making of’ more than the movie itself. It’s not so final. When you have a woman just standing there, it doesn’t mean much.
I am someone who often finds the things in the wings more interesting than those out on center stage.
What is merely beautiful has always bored me, I’m interested in what is powerful and real.
Evolution is always more interesting than repetition.
The whole history of photography is present in my work. It’s full of ghosts.
Even today, I still choose the shabbiest locations for my photographs, probably because they remind me of the Ruhr region. Even though Duisburg is so ugly, it evokes in me a sense of being protected and a certain version of beauty, neither of which I can really understand.
Where to Get your Inspiration
Your inspiration is better if it comes from many different sources and your sensibilities will transform all those influences and inspiration into your own visual world. It’s like reading the book instead of watching the movie. Inspired by words, for example, you have to create images to tell the story, while it’s much more difficult to find your own images with a film for inspiration because someone has already done it for you. I believe that the source of your inspiration is very important. I sometimes see this problem with photographers, even very good ones, who have drawn too much inspiration from photography and who, over time, have a problem forming their own identity.
Your photographs need to come from deep down inside, from who you are as a person.
Advice to Young Photographers
I just got back from a workshop I led in Venice. They wanted to call it a “masterclass” – what a stupid word! I learned more in a just few days than I have in the past fifteen years. There were a dozen interns there, all photographers. Everyone arrived with their portfolio in hand. I told them, “What’s the point of going through all this? What’s important is that you ask yourself why you’re taking pictures. Don’t just say: ‘The artistic director wanted me to do this, the stylist wanted me to do that.’ Stop apologizing all the time. Deep down, you are all Leonardo da Vinci. But you have to make an effort to find your creative spark wherever it is hidden. If you don’t look for it, if you don’t feel it, if you don’t even know you have it, then what’s the point! Your photographs need to come from deep down inside, from who you are as a person. Otherwise, you can shift from one style or one aesthetic to another, but you will never be yourself, you’ll be a lemming forever. And at some point, you will get stuck, you will stop growing.
Peter Lindbergh Quotes on Creativity
Creation is the birth of something, and something cannot come from nothing, When someone creates something: a painting, a poem, a photograph, the creativity comes from an idea, from a feeling, from emotion, or from a combination of ideas, feelings and emotions that are somehow “reborn” from all our experiences and perspectives.
Where does creativity come from? Why does one person take better pictures than another person does? It must be from the culture you have – not just from going to museums as a child, but from all the things you’ve seen and experienced consciously and subconsciously. It’s an amazing thing.
We’re not creating anything. We can reveal, but we can’t create! I’ve always operated on instinct. I don’t make any decisions; I don’t calculate anything. I’m doing what I feel. This picture with the five girls, it was unassuming, not calculated, it was fresh and completely innocent. These girls had an extraordinary personality, out of the norm.
I have no special compartments with hidden sources of creativity. Everything I see is inspiring and will be used sooner or later to do something.
In the end, I think that creativity comes from your vision of the world, somehow reborn through your experiences.
Coming Up with New Ideas
Now everyone arrives with photos. This is called a mood board. Mood board means that someone who is inexperienced looks for a lot of photos mixes them together and says: You have to do something like that. Nobody has the creativity to think of something new.
You need to recognize your talent, treasure it and make it visible. Everything else will disappear after that, like having the feeling of being proud. I see that in a lot of people who think they are intelligent. They have a certain talent but don’t possess independent access to their creativity. They are influenced too much by other people, they’re unable to pinpoint their own potential and make something out of it. Instead, they do as they are told and are ruled by the expectations of others.
Once upon a time, the photographer had to have an idea, not just click the shutter.
You can only really invent something if you connect yourself to the real world – whatever that means. It doesn’t even have to be something as exotic as the backstreets of Bombay, but you have to be connected to the real world, and from there, you can find something that becomes your thing.
My urge to keep creating won’t go away. People ask me why I’m doing so much work. They tell me, ‘You don’t have to and you don’t need to.’ I ask myself, why do people think that? I keep asking myself: why shouldn’t I be interested in things anymore? I don’t feel like leaning back. My head is still spinning. I know what I want to do — and what not to do.
Accessing your Creativity
Creativity is a space within you, you can call it a reservoir, and that reservoir has got to be filled with everything you feel, see, think – every emotion, everything involved in there. That is the basic material that you need, and you can work from there. Most people have no access to that place, and if they do have access, this is what makes a genius, because they do something totally original with their own reservoir.
I’ve used transcendental meditation for forty years and I know that this has helped me a lot to find out who I am and to find my way inside.
I believe that creativity derives from your vision of the world, which is somehow reborn through your experiences. Many creative fills people but they don’t know how to access their creativity. I have been practicing Transcendental Meditation for forty years and it has helped me greatly to understand who I am and to find my inner way.
There are people who claim that they have never been that lucky. But you have to create opportunities. That’s what you learn when you meditate: creativity is always there, somewhere in your stomach, like primordial soup. There are no creative and uncreative people, there is only more or less access to one’s own creativity.
Art and Photography
I don’t believe in labels or titles. Why should a painter or sculptor who has probably never challenged the rules to be an artist just because his title and an art school education automatically make him one? Isn’t art about breaking rules, about challenging existing systems, isn’t it about discovering meaning in things or situations before others see anything in them? Your work makes you an artist, not your title.
I once had a discussion with Art Forum magazine, they asked the question, ‘When you create a work to order, to a commission, to a specification, how can that be art?’ I replied, ‘Well then, the museums are going to have to throw a lot of paintings out, because Titian, Michelangelo, all these guys, they all worked on demand. Can you imagine the whores they were? They were all fighting for places on courts and painting whatever the king or the lord liked. They would get a detailed contract for every painting – for how the picture would look, ensuring the king’s woman would not look fat or ugly, even though she probably was. It was kind of Photoshop on contract, before Photoshop existed.
An artist is someone who searches for, finds and takes what the rest haven’t seen.
Others praise me for having everything under control. But for my part, I simply start out and things then happen that I cannot really influence, and I try as far as possible to accept them the way they are. That’s what I call flexibility. I don’t want to have the reins in my hand all the time. Even in the case of large sets, it’s important to have a lot of free scope, as this lets you give brilliant coincidence a real chance.
I think I plan an idea for a shoot so that I can sleep the night before! When you are on a shoot, you realize within an hour that it won’t happen the way you planned. The important thing is to stop trying to realize something that does not follow the moment.
When you come to the shoots today, editors or clients will come with a pile of pictures by other people and say, “This is what we want to do.” Then they say, “But it’s only for inspiration. We don’t want to do exactly that.” But 20 minutes later, when everything is done – the hair, the makeup – and you’ve started to shoot, they come with one of those pictures in hand and say, “Let’s start with this one.” As a photographer, what can you say? You can only say, “Fuck off.” No? So that’s how it seems to work today.
When I’m asked if I follow a method when taking pictures, I reply that I don’t have a method. Everything is simply genuine and real.
Capturing the Moment
I like to give freedom to the people I capture to let them express themselves in the way they want. The results are always very interesting and unexpected, and I think this is how magic works in a way to capture moments.
Every day, you have to try to be different and unconventional. Especially when preparing things in advance, you have to have the courage to act completely differently. It’s very important, you’re taking pictures of the moment not even three weeks before.
I do not have one special routine. I strongly believe in human relations and dialogue – they are probably the most important tools for the work I do. It is about creating a relation, an intimacy to capture something others or even the subjects have not seen of themselves yet. The idea is to capture moments: moments of intimacy, moments of happiness and moments of truth people can relate to. I think it is nice to put images in context.
When you have an idea, a narrative concept, it’s very easy to fill 30 pages up. Every picture has a reason. But when I have to just photograph fashion, I don’t know what to do after ten pages.
You make all the preparations, and then when you start shooting, you forget about it all. The most important thing is having freedom. I could never do a movie following a script, from the second day I’d be in totally different places.
This exactly seems to be the most important gift you need, to come to a “symbiotic relationship” with your subjects. It creates amazing moments and a feeling that everything can happen at any moment. It is something very beautiful and, by the way, very useful… I do not make a difference between an actor or a model when I shoot – I love storytelling, narrative stories, and it is about showing something real, situations where I leave some space for improvisation. I give the guidelines – suggest – and then they have to pretend I am just not there photographing them.
It seems, though, like a lot of photographers sit in their offices or in their studios now and look through fashion magazines and say, “Wow, that story is great! Let’s do something like that!”
Peter Lindbergh Quotes on Fashion Photography
Fashion photography should say something about the stability of a certain time you live in or what kind of women you like. The most interesting thing is not what they’re wearing but who they are. It’s important to do pictures that define women and not show some girl rummaging around in the garbage with high heels and fake boobies to show a product.
Fashion photography is actually like a cow now because a lot of idiots’ chew over it seven times. Look at the photos that are said to have changed photography: the photographers of that time went out in the morning, took a model with them and did what they wanted.
For me, fashion only serves to tell something about the woman who wears it.
When you meet someone, you’re more likely to remember their look, their eyes and their body movements than the color of their sweater.
The point is not to photograph three pockets and buttons. Yes, okay, I’m the first to be amazed at the creativity of designers and to be touched by their magic, but fashion and fashion photography are, for me, two completely different things. I may be a fashion slave, but I’m a free slave!
Fashion in the Modern Day
Most people in charge of fashion magazines and advertising don’t think about the damage they cause. During a television show, someone explained to me: “We have to make women dream with our work”. I said, ” I think you don’t understand the difference between dream and nightmare.”
A fashion photographer should contribute to defining the image of the contemporary woman or man in their time, to reflect a certain social or human reality. How surrealistic is today’s commercial agenda to retouch all signs of life and of experience, to retouch the very personal truth of the face itself?
I have not taken inspiration from fashion shows. I don’t even really go to too many of the fashion shows – and have not for 15 years – because I don’t want to be inspired by the same things as everyone else. If everyone is inspired by the same things, then, of course, you all do the same pictures.
Peter Lindbergh Quotes on Models
They need to feel comfortable. For this, there is no” stuff ” except that you have to like people. You’re different every day. Don’t cheat, just stay yourself. Some days, it’s harder. But when the model feels good, it does nothing, it tries nothing and will reveal a little of itself.
Women are much more open and courageous. They have more guts and take far more risks than men. I look at women the way they really are. Maybe that’s why they can free themselves from themselves in front of my lens.
I want to photograph real people, not the Model. What interests me is this certain reality behind the facade.
Models today have been bred for fashion shows. In the good old days, we found models on the street.
I don’t like model bodies. For a few years, now many of the runway mannequins have no breasts, all of them look alike. And for me, this is the opposite of the personality.
Steven [Meisel] is like a real fashion-oriented person, a kind of Warhol who changes people into what he wants. I choose people for the way they are. It is not better, but different.
My reaction during photoshoots was often, “Take the makeup off. It looks terrible.” If one of them said, “Oh, but I have a contract with Revlon, I can’t photograph without makeup.” Then I answered, “Why would you draw something so absurd?”
The funny thing is that I just ask everyone to stand in front of my lens: who I am in love with, who I admire, everyone I wanted to marry after having worked together for 25 years, but for which I didn’t have the balls to ask.
Peter Lindbergh Quotes on Portraits
For me, every picture is a portrait – no matter what I’m doing. From my very old standpoint, I think everything you do should have a meaning.
Small kids are just great – they are so open and so devoted. They have not yet erected a wall around themselves nor do they have an image of how they want to be seen by the outside world. They have no mask or allures. And in light of my experience with them, I believe that you can show the person behind the image of what he or she wishes to represent. Later, when I was an assistant to Hans Lux, I soon noticed that adults have lost the ability to be open when confronted by a camera. They spare no effort to put up a pretense, for both the photographer and themselves. Now tearing down those walls is the real challenge in taking portrait photos.
If I meet people don a mask in which they wish to be seen, then it is important how I as the photographer respond. The minute I simply act completely normal, they soon start to reveal what they actually are. It’s not just an exciting, but also a relaxing process enabling the persons portrayed to perhaps discover something about themselves they did not consciously know before. I want to get closer to what really is them. In other words, you must establish a climate of familiarity in the space of the maximum of two hours in which everything happens.
For me, a face without a smile is more expressive, tells much more. The disadvantage of smiling is that it takes over all other facial expressions.
The Magic Space
Contrary to common belief, it is impossible to make a representative photograph of someone. A human in all its complexity cannot be represented by a single image. This is absolutely naive and misleading. You can photograph what appears in a magic space you have to create between sitter and photographer.
I feel more and more, that it is about photographing this “magic space”, situated between the photographer and the subject he’s photographing and not about the “architecture” of faces.
You don’t photograph the physiognomy of someone else, but rather the feelings of the two people who were in the room when you took pictures.
A portrait is never the person. In another picture, we’re gonna get someone else. What you get, I think, is the relationship with the person you’re photographing. It is an exchange and that is what is on the image.
A portrait is never the person. What is captured, I think, is your relationship with the person.
Honesty and Trust
What do you photograph, after all? You look for honesty, and it strikes you, and then you start to have feelings about that person that you photograph, and that might sound strange, but then that feeling about that person leads them to feel that you understand her; she gives you a bit more than she might give other people. I like that honesty, that moment, the way that you look at me and the way I look at you, and that then there’s something kooky in between these two people. That feeling, that giving and taking, that is what you photograph. It’s not one person documenting another person, it’s a photograph of that relationship you have at that moment. You become another person, a little bit; you become that person that you feel that you are at that moment, and it makes you beautiful, or different, and that’s what’s on the film. And tomorrow you’ll be a totally different person because tomorrow is another moment. It took 40 years before I understood that.
If you photograph someone it’s like stating your opinion on them. The photo is the link binding together what you know, what you see, and what you feel. That is not only the essence of a good portrait but also of a good fashion shot.
The reason why faces are so fascinating has to do with the fact that the more you sense the person behind the face, the more you learn not to pass harsh judgment on them.
I can immediately feel when someone is putting on a camera face. As this is going to go nowhere, I’ll tell them, “Let’s try to move beyond this point together.”
In the relationship between sitter and photographer, trust is even more important than the truth.
A lot of actors get re-done – but it’s just the facade that has changed. When you see them on the day you shoot them, it’s not them. But you don’t shoot the architecture of a person – you shoot what comes out of them to you
A lot of people think my work is all about celebrities. And they all talk about the celebrities, no? I like celebrities, but only if they have something to say.
The one big difference between actresses and models is that models are fixed to the camera, and actresses never look at a camera if you don’t force them. They learn their whole life to be there and forget there’s a camera. That’s a fundamental difference.
I can’t find a beautiful woman if I don’t know her. Otherwise, I can only assume… and combine that with my own experience.
It is about my fascination for the 1920s when the kind of strong woman I love asserted itself: like Marlene Dietrich, transformist par excellence, feminine but at the same time androgynous and totally unconventional.
I asked myself where beauty originated. The answer is: from intelligence and talent.
Beauty is mostly in no tricks, in simplicity. You could say, ” beauty is truthful, truthful.”
Almost everything has been retouched, and that perfection is terrorizing the world. That urge for perfection is the most capricious thing. But it is a strong weapon for commerce to make people believe that that is beautiful. Because who doesn’t want to be beautiful? I want it too, but it takes me too much effort. Someone with a commercial motive wants you to believe that perfection is beauty. But perfection is an insult.
When you can sign on to the idea that there cannot be beauty without truth, the answer is clear. How crazy and unreal is the idea of erasing all your experiences from your face? You should also know why you want to leave them.
The cosmetics industry has brainwashed us all. I’m not retouching anything. “Oh, but she looks tired,” they say. And then if she looks tired? Tired and beautiful.
My idea of beauty has never changed. It’s about having the courage to be yourself. Perfect features don’t make for beauty. Personality does.
Black and White
Although man perceives the real world in color, for me black and white has always been linked to the deep truth of the image, to its most secret meaning.
For me, black and white was synonymous with reality. This is, of course, a point of view, because one can make wonderful portraits in color. And we can also say that black and white is a way of distancing oneself from reality with a more artistic point of view.
On black and white portraits, the skin has a different shine. It is as if the light is passing through the skin, whereas with the color, it remains on the surface. I also find black and white to be more intense. I think it’s coming from all those American photographers like Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange who, back in the days of the Great Depression, did reports for the government.
Peter Lindbergh Quotes on Digital Photography
Now young photographers don’t even know what it means to use an analog camera. I know film very well and I didn’t ask for a digital camera, I was perfectly happy the way it was. Then with time, I learned that digital is fantastic in many ways except two. First, the digital image is too sharp and loses softness and emotion. In fact, I use Photoshop to reduce the digital effect. Second, the more annoying problem of working with a digital camera is that the process of shooting has become a collaborative effort. I am in front of the subject and whenever I shoot a picture that picture appears on a screen in the other room with ten people around watching and judging and giving advice. This way of shooting completely ruins the intimacy between the photographer and the subject. What interests me is the relationship, because that is where amazing pictures come from and shooting digital prevents me from having this special relationship.
Over time, I’ve learned that digital is great in many ways, less in two. The first is that the digital image is too sharp and loses softness and emotion. That’s why I use Photoshop to reduce the digital effect. Secondly, the most annoying aspect of working with a digital camera is that it transforms the photoshoot into a collective effort. Every time I find myself in front of a model and take a picture, the image appears on a screen in the next room, where there are ten people watching, judging and advising… This way of photographing completely destroys the intimacy between the photographer and the model.
The Change from Film to Digital
Digital for me stays exactly like film was before. The quality of the image is different, but you can go anywhere you want with Photoshop. We do [use] Photoshop only to make pictures not look like digital because it’s cold and awful and technical. But the biggest change is that you’re not intimate anymore with the model. That’s what is going to destroy photography and that’s what’s going to destroy photographers because they’re not going to want to be photographers anymore in 10 years, I’m sure. It has become a democratic process and that’s going nowhere, everybody talks into the picture, that’s awful. That’s the most embarrassing thing.
What interests me is the relationship with the model, because that’s where the good photos come from, and making digital photos prevents me from starting this special kind of relationship.
The Democratic Photographer
Using digital, there are ten people in front of the screen telling the photographer and the model what they should do. Photography cannot be democratic. Digital put everything at the same level… there is one voice, two voices, three voices. The more people talk about it, the less you can do. You have to be a dictator. You have to stop them. I really hate to say no but with the digital when they ask me ‘Can I see,’ I have to say ‘No.’ People who know me, don’t ask anymore.
The crime is that photographers are pushed to shoot with a cable attached to the camera and there is a screen in the middle of the studio and everyone is looking at it. The relationship with the models is killed. The editors will say, ‘Peter you got it, it’s great!’ or ‘Move the hand to the left a little’ and that’s nothing to do with photography. Photography becomes a button and that is so normal now.
Digital photography has a different look. I always have to take away his sharpness, because he has too much. It also changes the context. Before, I worked for hours on the same subject because I couldn’t tell if I’d already gotten a good shot. It was a very personal process that did not end until the revelation. Now the camera has a wire and, after each shot, someone looks at it on a screen and shouts directions. Intimacy with the model has disappeared, and so has photography as we knew it.
A lot of mainstream photographers seem not to think about what they’re doing or feel any responsibility toward anything. By the time they’re done, the models don’t have any trace of themselves left. This thing about looking young with no wrinkles or expression is all so boring really.
I hate retouching, I hate make-up. The number of beautiful women who have asked me to lengthen their legs or move their eyes further apart… you would not believe,” he added. “It’s a culture of madness.”
That’s the goal of the calendar – to the show the woman. And not this stretched, manipulated, emptied [person] you see in the magazines today.
All the advertising and magazine covers today — they don’t look like natural women. For me, that’s a real pity. There’s all this retouching. A little humanity would do good, especially in fashion photography.
Responsibility of Photographers Today
A lot of photographers seem not to think about what they’re doing or feel any responsibility toward anything. By the time they’re done, the models don’t have any trace of themselves left. This thing about looking young with no wrinkles or expression is all so boring really.
You look in the fashion magazines and see all of these retouched people. Some guys called retouchers go on the computer and take away everything that you are and then call it photography. I think it’s such an insult.
I have included in my contracts that no one can touch the picture after I have forwarded it. Because retouching is automatic in magazines. There is a certain conception of beauty, so they erode anything that deviates from anything. I also take a pimple away sometimes, but I’m not going to scrape cheeks or stretch bodies. In fact, I’m thrilled to see a real leg. With meat on it! Because we’ve gotten so used to those toothpicks, it’s awful, they’re not legs anymore, are they?!’
The Instagram Culture
Photography is alive and well on social networks like Instagram. But in the press or the commercial sector, it is dying: the system kills individuality and research. The photographer’s participation is reduced to perhaps 30% of the finished product. “It’s a cow: she eats something, swallows it, regurgitates it and then chews the same thing again. It’s a great loop recycling.
I love Instagram! For certain reasons only though — as long as you don’t use it to show the world for instance, that you have dinner with Brad Pitt. If you have something you want to say, you can reach people you would never be able to before. But to be measured in followers, that’s one of those ridiculous things because that’s again the unsensible idea of one being important, following someone. There are many reasons why someone might follow you. If you have a great butt and you show it all the time, you might have a lot of followers but it doesn’t mean anything. If you are an artist and you think you are a great artist because you have a lot of followers, then Justin Bieber would be the Leonardo DaVinci of today. So forget about the followers.
I simply notice that everybody does everything they possibly can to hype and blow up their personality. And if there is one thing that I understand at 73, it’s that the best attitude for a human being to have is not to be impressed by circumstances and not to try to impress others.
If you want to learn more about Peter Lindbergh then check out my article Peter Lindbergh: The Man Who Changed the Face of Fashion Photography or visit the Peter Linbergh Foundation.
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