She recently won the 7th Award to Distinguished Women in the Arts from the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and is a reference in the art of contemporary photography.
If you don’t know her name you must have seen her photographs on numerous magazine covers or commercials: naked John Lennon curled up around Yoko Ono on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, a shot taken four to five hours before his death, pregnant Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair, Tom Ford, Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson’s nudes (which has been parodied by Paul Rudd, Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill), and the list goes on…
From family pictures of her parents, of her children, of her companion writer Susan Sontag through life, disease and death, to landscapes and war photographs and famous shots of celebrities; it seems the lens of Annie Leibovitz travelled through the past few decades to capture fragments of everything.
Born in Connecticut, she spent a great part of her childhood on the road with her family. The first notion of frame she had was that of a car window through which she saw the scenery pass by. It was those family pictures taken along the trips that triggered her interest for photography. When her father joined the military in the Philipines, she took her first striking photographs on the base and later studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She also took night classes in photography. Both influences are clear in many of her recent photographs: their composition, the pauses, the very aesthetics remind of scenes from classic paintings. As for photography, the black and whites of Henry-Cartier Bresson and the movement captured in Barbara Morgan’s dance photographs serve as an inspirational background to many of her shots along the years. In the early 70‘s, she got her first job as a photographer at Rolling Stone magazine, and ended up following the Rolling Stones on tour through the swirl of rock and drugs. Backstage shots, hotel rooms with skinny rockers passed out of the floor… They all have a ring of truth to them: many have mentioned her ability to adapt to her environment, to blend into the scenery and see people or reveal the subjects of her photographs to themselves. To her though, it seems it is not the essence she captures, but a fraction of a moment and not life itself – «Life is much more complex…»
With hundreds of varied shots of celebrities along the years including the Queen of England Elizabeth II, as well as Hollywood’s own royalty with movie stars such as the vastly nominated Meryl Streep, her photographs include several idols of the music scene -such as Sting, Bruce Springsteen or Michael Jackson. Her shots all come from ‘simple ideas’ she modestly says, but everyone knows her camera is like a stamp of aproval on the road to celebrity. When she took Whoopi Goldberg in a bathtub filled with milk she said: «I want to show you are emerging from what was… which was all white».
‘- When that picture came out, everything changed, literally overnight. When I was walking down the street on friday night… and saturday morning people were yelling my name’, Whoopi Goldberg.
From her edgy photographs at Rolling Stone, to her mainstream, fashionable and commercial shots ten years later at Vanity Fair and Vogue, Annie Leibovitz includes them all in her body of work: ‘I have only one life and all my photographs, including personal ones and those made to order, are part of this life.’
Well-known for the picturesque extranvaganza of her late settings, it is safe to say that more than one magazine must have had a bit of a fright when they were handed the bill of the shooting. But who can say no to building a special basin for Kate Winslet to swim in a mermaid-like fashion, to close the Château de Versailles gardens for a shooting with Kirsten Dunst for her role in Sofia Coppola’s Marie-Antoinette, or yet to recreate the fairytale atmosphere of Disney classics for the Disney Parks campain, when in the end the result is always so visually striking?
Here are a few examples of her remarkable photographs…
For more on Annie Leibovtiz, here are a number of publications:
Annie Leibovitz: Photographs (1983), Photographs: Annie Leibovitz 1970–1990 (1991), Olympic Portraits (1996), Women (1999), American Music (2003), A Photographer’s Life: 1990–2005 (2006), and Annie Leibovitz at Work (2008), Pilgrimage (2012)
And a documentary about her work: «American Masters» Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens (2008) by her sister Barbara Leibovitz.