Simon Baker and the legendary photographer talk about the importance of supporting a new generation
As a young photographer, to have your work pored over by an industry expert can mean a foot in the door, but when that industry expert is photographer Peter Lindbergh, it can carry you over the threshold. This is the position that 14 photographers found themselves in when Dior announced that the first edition of its Photography Award for Young Talent was being judged by a series of experts – Lindbergh included.
In association with the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie and The Luma Foundation, the jury was completed by Simon Baker (Director of the Maison Européenne De La Photographie), Maja Hoffmann (Founder and President of The Luma Foundation), and Claude Martinez (President and CEO of Christian Dior Parfums). Photographers were whittled down from hundreds of entries which had responded to three key values that the House of Dior was built upon; “colour, femininity, and beauty”. 13 laureates were then chosen and invited from all corners of the globe to present their work at an exhibition titled The Art of Colour, at the Parc Des Ateliers during the peak of the Arles Photo Festival.
23-year-old South Korean photographer Yoonkyung Jang was announced as the winner and awarded a €10,000 grant at the show’s opening ceremony. “Peter is my one of my favourite and most respected artists”, she revealed, “so when I heard that he was on the jury, I really wanted to be recognised by him. Until this competition, I hadn’t had much of a chance to be judged by such a great jury.” Jang also noted that Lindbergh took the time to pass on his praise personally after the ceremony: “He was really proud of me and said I deserved it. Which makes me proud of myself – it’s one of the biggest dreams come true.”
Moments before the announcement, we caught up with Lindbergh and Baker to talk about the importance of supporting the next generation and gathered their advice on how to be a standout artist.
“When we saw all the things that were sent in, we thought, ‘God, nobody read the brief’. (laughs) And then we released that everything fits in” – Peter Lindbergh
The brief for the competition was “Woman-Women Faces”, with the words “colour, feminity, and beauty” as points of departure – what does that brief mean to you?
Peter Lindbergh: It’s a very clever way to say ‘do whatever you want’ (laughs) because it doesn't fit into a category, you can do everything.
Simon Baker: As I understand it, Dior wanted to connect what they had done previously and the traditions associated with the company and the brand image, and connect that with what young artists might be doing and what might be interesting for the future. So, in a way, it’s very open, but it does also focus the attention of the press and the public on the things that are associated with Dior. It wouldn’t make much sense for Dior to sponsor a prize based on war reporting or performance art. They made something that is connected with the history.
Peter Lindbergh: When we saw all the things that were sent in, we thought, ‘God, nobody read the brief’. (laughs) And then we released that everything fits in.
What makes an image stand out for you?
Peter Lindbergh: The purpose of the picture.
What specifically made these finalists stand out?
Simon Baker: When we went through these portfolios, we got an idea of a voice and a point of view – that they have something to say, which is really important.. and that's what the image is all about; communication.
What is it about a photograph that grabs you?
Peter Lindbergh: It should have a purpose... technicality has nothing to do with it. It could be a photocopy, it can be anything! It doesn’t have to be sharp. I have a Swiss assistant who always says, ‘this is not sharp’. I say, ‘fuck off!’ (laughs).
Simon Baker: I like the idea of a real intent, but also somebody who has kind of organised what they want to do and worked it out in advance, even if what they end up doing is more ad-hoc.
How have photography trends changed from when you first started out till now?
Peter Lindbergh: Day to night!
Do you feel like a lot of people have gone back to film?
Peter Lindbergh: No – that’s some extremists (saying that) or something. But digital people didn't see the danger, and still don't see the danger, of digital photography. They think that digital photography is technically too sharp, too hard... no feelings. That's totally not important because you can do anything with it. There are digital pictures that you would bet your life on that it is film because it’s emotional, the right grain, it’s sharp. You can do all that after.
The problem with digital is the photographer doesn’t exist anymore, because they stay in the studio somewhere – I’m talking commercial guys, fashion photographers – and they stay there, and they have the screen, and the camera is there, the models beside them, and everybody comments on the picture. So that is the end of photography. Even worse, it is the end of photographers.
Nobody comes anymore to a photographer and says, you know, I want to do a great story or whatever’. They come with slides and say, 'What do you think? Is that a great story?' Then they say, ‘where's the mood board?’ I said ‘fuck off with your mood board. You’re putting me in a bad mood with your mood board’ (laughs).
How important is it that institutions help the next generation of artists?
Simon Baker: There's no problem with photographers making work but having the opportunity to show it, and having the resources... that's super expensive. There are brilliant schools here (in Arles) and in other countries, but having the opportunity to have someone help to support printing, help support publishing, help support travel – those things are really important. They make a really big difference. What I really like about this prize, is that Dior brought the photographers here to be able to see it. They can look around, they can look at the other shows, talk to each other – that's great. And you know, at an international level, it's difficult to do. If you're a student at a school in Shanghai, it's not evident that you'd be able to afford to come to Arles and see this huge photography festival, so hats off to Dior for bringing everyone here.
Peter, have you ever had anyone giving you a helping hand in your career?
Peter Lindbergh: When I came to Paris, Karl Lagerfeld was the first guy who really did something, he wrote something for me, he prefaced my first Women book. He was always very supportive.
“Rather than looking at too much photography, look at other things. Look at film, look at fashion, look at performance art, look at contemporary art” – Simon Baker
What advice would you give to up-and-coming photographers?
Peter Lindbergh: (Simon and I) said something completely opposite before, but that's because we were looking at it from different angles. I was saying that it's very important not to look too much around you, but after you have seen a lot of things and you have your creativity. My obsession is the definition of creativity; where it comes from, how it's composed, how does it get there, what is it doing, how is the texture of it, how to get to it… and that is very interesting. And once you're there, and you say, 'I'm 50 years old, 100 years old now”, then I looked inside to see what I could find, and what I could say with it – that was my thing. Simon said, ‘you should look everyone’.
Simon Baker: I was agreeing with you, but I was saying that rather than looking at too much photography, look at other things. Look at film, look at fashion, look at performance art, look at contemporary art. Look at the things that photography touches on a daily basis but also in the world around us. Rather than being obsessed with copying Peter Lindbergh – which would be a disaster, because you can't make work that looks too much like somebody else's work. It’s very evident when you see someone's work and they're only interested in black-and-white Japanese photography from the 1970s, then their work would look like that. But you can look elsewhere – culturally and socially – and find your voice through those connections.
The Dior New Talent Photography Prize, The Art of Colour, runs at Arles’ Parc Des Ateliers until September 23, 2018