Focus on Women: Part 1

“What makes a picture is the space between the two of you. It goes on, like a layer, over the face.” Peter Lindberg 2017.

I recently found the work of Peter Lindberg illustrated in the Times marking the publication of Shadows on the Wall (Taschen, £79.99). What caught my eye were the black and white images of well known women photographed without makeup and styling of hair in black and white. It was as if he had peeled the layers off these models and film stars who are most often seen by the public disguised as different characters in their films or styled and dressed for occasions and glossy publications. With minimal or no digital darkroom processing he shows the women behind their masks. The images for this book were selected from 37,000 taken for the the 2017 Pirelli Calendar. Looking further into his work I wanted to know whether his intentions had been and still are to show that these women are like most of us underneath their usual adornments, and/or whether he wanted to send a message to others about manipulating images to the extent that ordinary people would aspire to but never reach their level of flawless perfection, or some other reason. Of course it may simply be that he has found a niche and women of means are happy to pay what are presumably his high fees. If the latter is the case I understand he has to make a living and has made a name for himself but I veer in preference to the first two of my suggestions being his strongest motivators. I would like to see women without such means photographed in the same way. I was personally pleased to find in the interview with Susie Rushton she states his enduring intention and commitment to “free women from the artifice of airbrushing” (2017). Coming from a clinical career and being a mother aware of media influence on young minds I have witnessed the pressures and strains, and sometimes devastating effects that the desire to emulate can have. This has intensified as access to increasing forms of social media are perpetuating the trends in selfies and excessively adorned self promotion. Peter Lindberg states in his website biography, “This should be the responsibility of photographers today to free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection.”

Exploring his website and reading his biography revealed more about the man and his original intentions to be a window dresser, then becoming an artist before finding photography. Interestingly window dressing, if the human form is displayed, usually involves the latest fashions whereas in his portraiture of women the person not the clothes are the focus. The 2017 Pirelli calendar is an example of drawing attention to the women without the intrusion of their outerwear defining them and their stories. Stories are what he creates in his images which almost seem unadorned in their own right being in black and white. Without colour, interest in the face and what the image is saying to the viewer about the person seems to become clearer and intensifies the connection with them.

He is however also well known for his fashion photography and even when showcasing the latest for Vogue he shoots in black and white and against backdrops or on locations that can be naturally seen in shades of grey (industrial, bleak and deteriorating with few props). In these images attention is drawn to the clothes but not at the expense of the natural beauty of the models.

Having previously been a staunch supporter of colour in images I am not necessarily changing but coming to a realisation that black and white with the appropriate lighting and set in a complimentary context can be as and sometimes more, impactful for the viewer. As an experiment I decided to relook at a portrait I took in 2016 of my daughter when we were on a coastal walk. It was sunset and the light and slight breeze inspired me to try to capture her beauty in that moment. I have presented the original colour image and converted it in another to black and white for comparison inspired by Peter Lindberg’s portraits. Interestingly, I prefer the effect of the sunset on her face and hair in the colour image and the less intrusive and distracting background in the black and white version! If I look at each individually there is something about the black and white one which draws me in through her eyes perhaps more so than the colour version where there is a greater contrast in impact between the two eyes because of the orange glow of sunset on one side of her face. Thus in the former the subject (my daughter) and in the latter the light contrast on the subject capture my attention. I will need to think more carefully about colour or black and white and what might be not only a better way to depict something or someone from my point of view but also taking into account potential viewers perspectives.

Lindberg, Peter. Available at: http://www.peterlindbergh.com/press/133.%5Baccessed 9/12/2017].

Lindberg, Peter. 2017. Shadows on the Wall. Berlin: Taschen.

Rushton, Susie. 2017. Interview: Photographer Peter Lindberg. Available at: thetimes.co.uk. [accessed 27/11/17).

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