When Peter Lindbergh got to the set of his first Pirelli Calendar, the 1996 edition to be exact, he had been a professional photographer for almost 20 years.
He was past 50 years of age, and was at the peak of his artistic career. He traced the guidelines of a style, which he subsequently developed, diversified and structured in an increasingly effective manner. Yet he had already shown a passion for black and white photography. He had recently published his first book, Women by Peter Lindbergh (1993) and was an established fashion photographer, with a clear-cut and original outlook that went beyond the commercial side of fashion to embrace the depth of portraits. For this reason, he was very popular with the magazines, such as Vogue France, who were in pursuit of greater depth in their aesthetic illustrations.
Lindbergh faced the set of El Mirage in California with caution. He picked a charming location, an arid plain distinguished by the presence of a dried-out lake. It was as if it were a desert, with its reverberations and asphyxiating heat, but without the softness of the sand. Instead, it is surrounded by nothing whatsoever. This is a place where speed enthusiasts experiment with cars, motorbikes and airplane prototypes.
Lindbergh built his set here. He brought along large artificial spotlights to create contrast with the natural white light. He had a black background put up, as if looking for protection in an attempt to build his own space. But he didn't want to be cut off from the context. So he allowed it to filter through specific, set spaces which he chose specifically. Only once these safety features had been built did he allow the models to walk onto the artistic set. He called Vietnamese Navia Nguyen, one of the leading Oriental top models, along with Eva Herzigova who was just 22 at the time, the more mature expressions of 35 year-old Nastassja Kinski, Kristen McMenamy and the softness of Tatjana Patitz. But Lindbergh got the absolute best from Carré Otis. She is Mickey Rourke's wife, at the time when the actor was the symbol of world-wide seduction after the success of “9 1/2 weeks”. She was Californian so was playing on home turf. She was aware of the torrid atmosphere that can prove seductive in the far West. She started her career as a model for Playboy but then dedicated herself to acting following her performance in “Wild Orchid”. This was exactly the right erotic key that Lindbergh was looking for to break his work away from that of glossy fashion magazines. This choice rewarded him. The challenging look in Otis' eyes, as she kneels or sits astride a simple leather and metal chair, entered the collective imagination of world-wide photography.
For the 1996 Pirelli Calendar, Lindbergh worked with his more classic black and white. He emphasised the contrasts, marking the photographic depth, allowing the accurate portraits with close-ups of out-of-context faces to respond to pictures that embrace the landscape with a look that escapes into a deep perspective.
The result is a powerful and particularly authorial calendar.