As a photographer of today's hottest celebrities—and who herself has become a celebrity—Annie Leibovitz (born c. 1949) has chronicled popular culture for more than 25 years.
She is "a photographer of celebrities who has herself become a celebrity." For the past 25 years, no photographer has delivered more photographs of the people we most want to see than has Annie Leibovitz. Her pictures are recognizable for their bright colors, intense lighting, and above all, for unique and surprising poses. In magazine spreads and advertising campaigns, Leibovitz has demonstrated that she is a master of projecting the popular culture of our time.
Anna-Lou Leibovitz was born in Westbury, Connecticut. Her father, Sam Leibovitz, was an Air Force lieutenant colonel and because of his career, the family moved often during Leibovitz's childhood. Her mother, Marilyn Leibovitz, was a modern-dance instructor and the chief force in raising Annie and her five siblings. Leibovitz remembers taking many dance classes from her mother and other teachers. She credits this for her later interest in photographing dancers.
During high school Leibovitz played guitar and wrote music and was the head of the school folksinging club. She also developed an interest in painting and attended the San Francisco Art Institute, beginning in 1967. She considered a career as a painting instructor. During a vacation from school, Leibovitz visited her family, then living in the Philippines. She and her mother took a trip to Japan, where she bought a camera and began taking pictures.
When she returned to school, Leibovitz enrolled in a night class in photography. "I was totally seduced by the wonderment of it all," she told a writer for Art News. "To see something that afternoon and have it materialize before your eyes that same day. There was a real immediacy to it. I lived in the darkroom."
Begins Long Association with Rolling Stone
From then on Leibovitz was hooked on photography. She worked on a kibbutz, a collectively run farm, in Israel for several months in 1969. She took pictures while there and continued to snap away when she returned to California. In 1970 a friend suggested that she take her prints to Rolling Stone magazine, which was headquartered in San Francisco. Rolling Stone was just getting started then, a new magazine about rock music and the counterculture that had emerged in the late 1960s from the bohemia of the 1950s. Jann Wenner, the magazine's founder, was impressed by Leibovitz's photos. He began giving her assignments, paying her $47 a week before she had even graduated from college. Leibovitz recalled, "I can never forget the sensation of being at a newsstand and seeing for the first time my photograph transformed into the Rolling Stone cover."
By 1973, when she was only 23 years old, Leibovitz had become chief photographer for Rolling Stone; she stayed with the magazine for ten more years. During that time she traveled around the country and the world photographing everyone who was anyone in pop music. Her reputation was cemented by photographs of two subjects. One was former Beatle John Lennon. She snapped countless shots of Lennon between 1970 and his death in 1980. One of her most famous photographs was taken on December 8, 1980, only two hours before Lennon's murder.
Documents the Rolling Stones on Tour
The second subject that would spread Leibovitz's renown was the English group the Rolling Stones; she was hired by the band in 1975 to document their concert tour of that year. The photographs she produced as she traveled and lived with the Stones have been called "some of the most eloquent images ever made of the world of Rock and Roll." That project and growing acclaim for Rolling Stone made Leibovitz a big name among contemporary photographers. Unfortunately, she became associated with drugs as well as with rock and roll; the pressure of her career and nearness to rock's excesses led her to begin using cocaine. "I went on that [Rolling Stones] tour to get to the heart of something, to see what it was like," she later told Vanity Fair. "People always talk about the soul of the sitter [in a photograph], but the photographer has a soul, too. And I almost lost it." Leibovitz has admitted that it took her five years to "get off the tour," but she did, and her career continued to climb.
Develops Signature Style with Color
Leibovitz's early photographs were in black and white. When Rolling Stone began printing in color in 1974, she started using color film, staging elaborate scenes for the magazine's covers. She explained to ArtNews, "When I was in school, I wasn't taught anything about lighting, I was only taught black-and-white. So I had to learn about color myself." Nonetheless, Leibovitz quickly developed her signature style, notable for brilliant color, partly because it printed well.
During her years with Rolling Stone and in her work for other magazines, Leibovitz photographed many of the biggest names in entertainment, including keyboardist-singer Stevie Wonder, rocker Bruce Springsteen, film director Woody Allen, country songbird Dolly Parton, pop singer Linda Ronstadt, actress Meryl Streep, dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, and action film star Arnold Schwarzenegger. Initially her photographs of celebrities were like snapshots, capturing the subject in the moment. But she soon became aware of her ability to put people at ease, helping them to "let down their guard." She encouraged her famous subjects to pose for her doing crazy or silly things that frequently revealed their personalities more than just a "straight" portrait could. Another secret of Leibovitz's success is her careful pre-shoot research of her subjects: she reads their books or poetry, sees their movies or performances, and when possible, spends time observing their daily lives.
Becomes Known for Photographing Celebrities
Her best-known photographs feature actress Whoopi Goldberg with only her face, arms, and legs peeking out of a bathtub full of milk; TV star Roseanne Arnold mud-wrestling with her husband Tom; and the artist Christo wrapped in fabric like one of his artworks. Photography writer and critic Andy Grundberg pointed out how Leibovitz "exaggerates the distinctive characteristic of [the celebrities'] public image in a way that's funny and deflating." Perhaps her most controversial photograph was for a 1992 Vanity Fair cover; on it appeared actress Demi Moore—nude and very pregnant.
Broadens Reputation at Vanity Fair
In 1983 Leibovitz left Rolling Stone; shortly thereafter she became chief photographer for Vanity Fair. This afforded her the opportunity to photograph even more stars, including many artists, writers, poets, and dancers. That year she also mounted her first solo show, many of her portraits numbering among its 60 pictures. A reviewer for the Christian Science Monitor attested of Leibovitz's work: "There is humor and beauty here, as well as images that some may consider downright outrageous. … She goes a step beyond what is necessary to create striking images of famous people."
In 1986 Leibovitz added advertising to her list of assignments. She has contributed her photographs to the ad campaigns of numerous companies, among them Honda, Arrow shirts, Rose's Lime Juice, the Gap, and American Express. Her work on behalf of the latter earned her the coveted Clio Award, the equivalent of an Academy Award, from the advertising industry. Leibovitz says that some of the success of these photographs can be attributed to large budgets, most notably from American Express, which enabled her to fly her subjects to virtually any locale and allowed her to spend several days photographing them. "I've moved into the terrain of making pictures, composing, theatre," she told New York magazine.
Washington D.C. Exhibit Showcases Work
In 1991 Leibovitz was honored with a major exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. It was only the second display of the work of a living photographer ever mounted at the site. The exhibit drew more visitors during its five weeks than ordinarily visit the National Portrait Gallery in an entire year. A book was published to accompany the show titled Photographs: Annie Leibovitz 1970-1990. It contains almost 200 of her photos, dating back to her kibbutz days in 1969. In the early 1990s Leibovitz's work was shown in Arizona, Florida, Utah, Boston, and San Francisco, to name just a few of its destinations.
In 1996, the Atlantic Committee named Leibovitz the official photographer for the US Olympic Team. Vanity Fair printed her work in its May issue and Sports Illustrated featured the photographs in its official Summer Games program. In addition, Leibovitz's first attempt at photographing athletes was shown in a Centennial Olympic Park exhibit during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, as well as in her latest photography book, Olympic Portraits.
Leibovitz herself is quite recognizable—tall, with lanky blonde hair, a prominent nose, and a broad smile. Despite the exposure she has received over the years and the stars with whom she has hobnobbed, she claims to be quite shy. An exercise enthusiast, she maintains an apartment in New York City and a home on Long Island but spends much of her time traveling on assignment. The photographer has said she sometimes regrets not having much time for her personal life, conceding, "My longest relationship has always been my work. My work has always delivered for me." But she has also claimed, "I'm happy doing exactly what I'm doing. … I can do this the rest of my life. It's only going to get better."
Despite its popularity, Leibovitz's work has received some criticism that it is superficial because of its emphasis on celebrities. More often, however, critics comment on how much her celebrity photographs reveal about their subject and about contemporary American culture. Leibovitz has said that it is important to her to study the work of earlier artists and photographers. Yet the unusual poses, vivid lighting, and unexpected elements in her portraiture indicate a totally modern vision. The reflection of culture and society has been the goal of many artists; Annie Leibovitz has amply achieved this aim with her camera.
Advertising Age, February 26, 1996.
Atlanta Constitution, February 6, 1996, p. C4.
Leibovitz, Annie, Dancers: Photographs, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.
Leibovitz, Annie, Photographs, Pantheon, 1983.
Leibovitz, Annie, Photographs Annie Leibovitz, 1970-1990, Harper Collins, 1991.
Marcus, Adrianne, The Photojournalist: Mary Ellen Mark & Annie Leibovitz, T. Y. Crowell, 1974.
Vanity Fair, April 1995, pp. 231 +. □
"Annie Leibovitz." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/annie-leibovitz
"Annie Leibovitz." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved September 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/annie-leibovitz
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Annie Leibovitz (lēb´əvĬts), 1949–, American photographer, b. Waterbury, Conn., as Anna-Lou Leibovitz. A celebrated portrait photographer, she began contributing photographs to Rolling Stone magazine in 1970, was named its chief photographer three years later, and became known for her images of rock personalities, notably a 1975 Rolling Stones concert tour series and a 1980 double portrait of a nude John Lennon clinging to a clothed Yoko Ono. Leibovitz moved away from reportage and on to a wider range of celebrity subjects when she became a principal photographer for Vanity Fair magazine in 1983. In the mid-1980s she also began photographing for major corporate advertisers. Her arresting, usually posed, and technically accomplished images of the famous and the unknown, in deeply saturated color or modulated black and white, represent a broad survey of American popular culture. Her books include 1983 and 1991 collections, Olympic Portraits (1996), Women (1999), American Music (2003), A Photographer's Life: 1990–2005 (2006), and Annie Leibovitz at Work (2008).
"Leibovitz, Annie." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/leibovitz-annie
"Leibovitz, Annie." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved September 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/leibovitz-annie
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LEIBOVITZ, ANNIE (Anna-Lou ; 1949– ), U.S. photographer. Born in Westbury, Conn., to an Air Force lieutenant and a modern dance instructor, she was one of six children. In 1967 she enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute (she earned her degree in 1971) and developed a love of photography. In 1969 she lived on a kibbutz in Israel and participated in an archeological dig at the site of King Solomon's temple. Her career started in 1970 when she sent pictures of a group of ladders, taken in an apple orchard on the kibbutz, to the start-up rock magazine Rolling Stone, which hired her right away. Within two years the 23-year-old Leibovitz was named chief photographer, a title she would hold for ten years. At the magazine she developed her trademark technique, which involved the use of bold primary colors and surprising poses. She accompanied the Rolling Stones rock group on its international tour in 1975 and captured weeks of strung-out nights and unmade beds. Jann Wenner, publisher of the magazine, credited Leibovitz with making many Rolling Stone magazine covers collector's items, most notably an issue that featured a nude John Lennon of the Beatles curled around his fully clothed wife, Yoko Ono. The photo was taken on December 8, 1980, just hours before his death.
In 1983 Leibovitz left Rolling Stone for the entertainment magazine Vanity Fair in part to learn about glamour. "I admired the work of photographers like Beaton, Penn, and Avedon as much as I respected the grittier photographers such as Robert Frank," she said. "But in the same way that I had to find my own way of reportage, I had to find my own form of glamour." With a wider array of subjects and generous budgets, Leibovitz photographed presidents, literary icons, and all manner of celebrities. A number of her covers provided startling images of well-known figures: the actress Demi Moore, nine months pregnant and nude except for a diamond ring, in 1991; the black comedian Whoopi Goldberg, half submerged in a bathtub of milk; and the late artist Keith Haring, who painted himself like one of his canvases for the photograph.
During the late 1980s Leibovitz started to work on a number of high-profile advertising campaigns. The most notable was for American Express; her portraits of celebrity cardholders like Elmore Leonard, Tom Selleck, and Luciano Pavarotti earned her a Clio award in 1987. In 1991 her collection of more than 200 black-and-white and color photographs were exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. She was the second living photographer and first woman to have that honor. In 1996 she was chosen as the official photographer of the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Ga., and a compilation of her black-and-white portraits of American athletes was published in the book Olympic Portraits. In 1999 she published the book Women, accompanied by an essay by the novelist Susan *Sontag. Included were an array of female images, from Supreme Court justices to Las Vegas showgirls to farmers and coal miners. In the early years of the 21st century, she was probably the most famous photographer or portraitist in the United States.
[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]
"Leibovitz, Annie." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/leibovitz-annie
"Leibovitz, Annie." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved September 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/leibovitz-annie
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Born October 2, 1949, in Westbury, CT; daughter of Sam (a U.S. Air Force colonel) and Marilyn (a modern-dance instructor) Leibovitz; children: Sarah Cameron. Education: San Francisco Art Institute, B.F. A., 1971; studied photography with Ralph Gibson. Hobbies and other interests: Bicycling, hiking.
Kibbutz Amir, Israel, member of archaeological team excavating King Solomon's temple, 1969; Rolling Stone (magazine), San Francisco, CA, and New York, NY, photographer, 1970-73, chief photographer, 1973-83; Vanity Fair (magazine), New York, NY, contributing photographer, 1983—; Annie Leibovitz Studio, New York, NY, owner. Tour photographer for Rolling Stones (rock band), 1975; World Cup Games, Mexico, poster photographer, 1986; American Ballet Theater, portrait photographer for fiftieth-anniversary tour book, 1989; White Oak Dance Project, documentary photographer, 1990; Mary Boone Gallery, portrait photographer, 1990; advertising photographer for American Express, Arrow, Beef Industry Council, Christian Brothers, the Gap, Honda, Rose's Lime Juice, and U.S. News and World Report; photographer for movie posters, record album covers, and book covers. Exhibitions: Work exhibited at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, NY, 1983, 1986; Arles Festival, France, 1986; James Danziger Gallery, New York, NY, 1991; National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC, 1991; International Center of Photography, New York, NY, 1991; Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC, 1999, 2001; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2000; David Adamson Gallery, New York, NY, 2001; and in other major U.S. and international cities.
Photographer of the Year, American Society of Magazine Photographers, 1984; Innovation in Photography Award, American Society of Magazine Photographers, 1987; Clio Award, Clio Enterprises, and Campaign of the Decade honor, Advertising Age, both 1987, and Infinity Award for applied photography, International Center of Photography, 1990, all for photography for American Express "Portraits" advertising campaign; Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Magazine Photography, Columbia University School of Journalism, 2000.
(And editor) Shooting Stars, Straight Arrow Books (San Francisco, CA), 1973.
Photographs, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1983.
(With others) Visual Aid, edited by James Danziger, foreword by Cornell Capa, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1986.
Alan Olshan, editor, American Ballet Theatre: The First Fifty Years, Dewynters PLC (London, England), 1989.
Jim Henke, Human Rights Now!, Amnesty International (New York, NY), 1989.
Photographs—Annie Leibovitz, 1970-1990, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Misha and Others: Photographs, Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington, DC), 1992.
Dancers, Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington, DC), 1992.
Olympic Portraits, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.
Anne Leibovitz: Helsingin Kaupungin Taidemuseo, Tennispalatsi, 28.3.-18.7.1999 = Helsinki City Art Museum, Tennis Palace (exhibition catalogue), Helsingin Kaupungin Taidemuseo (Helsinki, Finland), 1999.
Women, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
American Music, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor of photographs to periodicals, including Bunte, Cambio 16, El Europeo, Elle, Epocha, Esquire, Interview, Nouvel Observateur, Life, Ms., Newsweek, New York Times Magazine, London Observer, Paris Match, Stern, London Sunday Times, Switch, Time, Vogue, and Zeit. Contributor to Women Seeing Women, 2003. Photographs have been published in exhibition catalogues.
On the basis of three decades' worth of creative work, in 2003 Annie Leibovitz was hailed as "possibly the most famous living photographer or portraitist in America, maybe in the world," by Ginia Bellafante in the New York Times. Leibovitz has also been dubbed the "photographer of record of the baby boom generation," according to a contributor for Investor's Business Daily, her work recording the course of that generation "from its anti-establishment roots in the late 1960s to the pop culture of the '70s, the glitzy '80s and into the celebrity-crazed '90s and beyond." Best known for her bold, colorful photographs for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, Leibovitz is "the portraitist of the rock generation," wrote Mary Ann Tighe in the Washington Post Book World. Her famous subjects have ranged from rock legends John Lennon and Chuck Berry to former U.S. President Richard Nixon. Often her portraits capture the essence of her subjects' images or dig beneath the veneer of fame to reveal unexpected vulnerability. Some of her pictures—notably nudes such as her 1991 Vanity Fair cover shot of pregnant actress Demi Moore—have sparked controversy. Leibovitz's subjects have appeared smeared with mud or covered with roses, naked or swathed in yards of cloth, impeccably made-up or wildly disheveled. Through hundreds of attention-getting images, Leibovitz "has helped define the nature of stardom in a star-struck age," asserted Charles Hagen in ARTnews. Her photos can be seen on magazine covers, in ad campaigns, and on museum walls. "Presidents and generals, Olympians and Nobelists, aging literary icons and fresh-faced Hollywood discoveries have all been Leibovitzed," noted Washington Post contributor Paula Span. "In fact," Span continued, "even people who don't notice photo credits can probably retrieve from the neural databanks certain well-known Leibovitz images," making Leibovitz, the photographer, as well-known as the subjects she photographs.
Born on the Run
Leibovitz was born in Connecticut in 1949, one of six children of an Air Force lieutenant colonel and a dance instructor mother. With a father in the armed forces, Leibovitz moved often during her youth, but one constant was the dance classes she took from her mother and other instructors. Later, when starting her career as a photographer, Leibovitz drew on her early interest in dancing. Meanwhile, Folk music captured her interest in high school, where she played guitar and wrote music, while painting also became a hobby for the creative teen.
When she entered the San Francisco Art Institute in 1967, Leibovitz had no plans for a career in photography. Halfway through her painting studies, however, she vacationed in Japan and the Philippines, and acquired her first camera. Photography hooked her interest immediately. As she later recalled in ARTnews, "I was totally seduced by the wonderment of it all. . . . To see something that afternoon and have it materialize before your eyes that same day—there was a real immediacy to it. I lived in the darkroom. I'd spend all night there. You'd go in and you'd never want to go out." Leibovitz took night courses in photography in addition to her day classes in painting, and at age twenty she made her first photo sale to Rolling Stone.
A picture of counterculture poet Allen Ginsberg at a peace rally with a marijuana cigarette got Leibovitz started. Urged by a photographer friend to market the photo, she took her portfolio to Rolling Stone, which immediately bought the Ginsberg picture. Although she had not yet graduated from art school, Leibovitz quickly found a niche on the Rolling Stone staff. As she remarked in a New York article: "They really needed someone. . . . The good photographers in San Francisco were art-oriented and didn't want to do commercial work." If Leibovitz shared those qualms, she overcame them, and in three years she had become Rolling Stone's chief photographer.
The Rolling Stone Years
Leibovitz's style was journalistic in the beginning. Using black-and-white film, she shot straightforward, unposed portraits, often spending large amounts of time living with her subjects to get her pictures. As she explained to Laurence Shames in American Photographer: "I'd just sit in the corner for three or four days . . . and when something happened, I'd shoot it." One of Leibovitz's longest such outings came in 1975, when the popular British band the Rolling Stones asked her to be their tour photographer. For six months she traveled and lived with the group, documenting their performances and their private lives. She even snapped a color close-up of lead singer Mick Jagger's sutured wrist after he put his hand through a plate glass window. The tour took a heavy personal toll, however. Immersed in the fast-living, drug-taking rock culture, Leibovitz started using cocaine and spent the next several years battling her addiction to the drug.
After Rolling Stone adopted color covers early in the 1970s, Leibovitz traded in her black-and-white journalistic approach for the brilliant colors and intense lighting that have since become hallmarks of her work. She had to learn new skills and approaches to make the most of the new medium. As she explained in ARTnews: "When I was in school, I wasn't taught anything about lighting, and I was only taught black-and-white. So I had to learn color myself. . . . I soon realized that I couldn't shoot subtle tones. I had to do something that would survive [Rolling Stone's] printing process."
As Leibovitz's photography career progressed, she also learned to pose her subjects instead of simply taking whatever shots presented themselves. Sitters with only a few hours to spare began asking what she wanted them to do. "I was a very reluctant director at first because I was quite happy just photographing things as they were," Leibovitz remarked to a contributor in Esquire. But in the late 1970s and early 1980s, she admitted, "I started thinking conceptually . . . and I would try to outdo myself with each cover."
Leibovitz started posing her subjects in ways that brought out hidden aspects of their personalities or captured their public images. The Blues Brothers appear in blue face paint, Bette Midler's success with the song "The Rose" resonates through a shot of her lying amidst dozens of roses, and versatile actress Meryl Streep, in mask-like face makeup, pulls at the edges of her face as if to remove her mask. Some of Leibovitz's subjects went topless or totally undressed. Although her goal was often simply to reveal hidden aspects of her sitters' characters, Leibovitz became known for her ability to get sitters to disrobe.
During her thirteen years with Rolling Stone, Leibovitz had a powerful impact on the magazine's image. Editor Jann Wenner acknowledged her contributions to his publication in Shames's American Photographer story, noting that her "covers did a great deal to define what we wanted Rolling Stone to be. . . . Very witty, very intimate, very bold." Fronted with Leibovitz photographs, the magazine became so highly regarded in the rock culture that "there was even a song about a rock group's passionate yearning to see itself thereon portrayed," Shames noted. "The Rolling Stone cover was it, and Annie Leibovitz was the Rolling Stone cover."
Reviewers expressed various opinions on what made Leibovitz's photographs stand out. In Hagen's ARTnews article, critic Andy Grundberg asserted that Leibovitz "exaggerates the distinctive characteristics of [her subjects'] public images in a way that's funny and deflating." Hagen was impressed by how "physical" her portraits are: "Leibovitz gets her sitters to use their whole bodies." In a similar vein, several writers traced Leibovitz's success to her skill at getting her subjects actively involved in their photo sessions. As Shames put it, "What sets Leibovitz apart . . . has almost nothing to do with her handling of the camera, and almost everything to do with her handling of the subject." As Leibovitz
herself was quoted by New York writer Vicki Goldberg as saying: "I don't even think I was a very good photographer to begin with. I could just get people to do these things."
Two qualities that have helped Leibovitz "get people to do things" are persistence and what Shames called "a kamikaze intimacy that virtually no one can resist." She has been known to prolong a photo session for hours to get through a wary subject's guard. Once, with actor William Hurt, Leibovitz worked continuously from mid-afternoon to early the next morning. Observed George Lange in American Photographer, "She often told people that she was trying to photograph them as they really were, minus the attitudes and personae that celebrities usually adopt in formal portrait sessions." Leibovitz herself has proved free enough of pretense to jump into a swimming pool fully clothed, lie down on a wet beach, stand in a cold rain, and spend hours in desert heat to get the pictures she wants. Commenting on her rigorous photo sessions in American Photographer, Shames wrote, "There may be easier ways to do the job, but getting a picture the easy way seems to fill Leibovitz with guilt, self-doubt, and depression."
Strives for Creative Independence
Leibovitz's drive to create expressive portraits eventually led to her 1983 break with Rolling Stone. As editor Wenner was quoted by Shames in American Photographer, "Annie got a little too far out on a limb. . . . And I sawed the limb off." Shames reported that "her own vision was taking her farther into a sort of expressionism," while Wenner was leaning more toward straightforward "head-shots." Other commentators blamed personality conflicts. In New York Leibovitz offered this comment on herself: "I've resisted working with someone who tells me what to do. . . . Basically, I've always just listened to myself. I consider myself difficult to work with—a temperamental artist." Whatever the reason for the split, by the time Leibovitz left she had become "as famous as many of her subjects," as Maddy Miller wrote in People.
The year Leibovitz left Rolling Stone was also marked by the publication of her book Photographs, the first major collection of her portraits. Containing approximately seventy images, the volume drew a range of critical responses. Characterizing Leibovitz's approach in general as "witty, humane, affectionately mocking," a New York Times Book Review writer described some of the pictures as "poignant" but dismissed others as "pointless sleaze." The critic ultimately praised the book as "arresting proof" of how Leibovitz "has revitalized the portrait to illuminate the less obvious sides of people we had just started to grow bored with." Writing in the Washington Post Book World, Tighe commented that "celebrity in the razzle-dazzle sense is the raison d'etre of Leibovitz's pictures" and that her subjects' fame was what made most of the photos memorable. Certain exceptional images, such as that of singer-songwriter John Lennon, curled nude around his fully clothed, impassive wife, Yoko Ono, earned her approval for transcending mere glitz and suggesting "that Leibovitz can answer a higher calling than that of the circulation manager."
That controversial photo of John and Yoko, described by Miller in People as "probably Leibovitz's most famous," was significant for the photographer as well. In New York, Kanner observed that it is one of the photographer's "favorite pictures." Said Leibovitz: "It's significant historically—because it was taken hours before Lennon died—and graphically. . . . It told the story of their relationship, that he was a child to the woman and they were still together." After Lennon was killed outside his New York apartment building in December of 1980, the photo appeared on the cover of a special Rolling Stone issue commemorating his life and death—despite the designers' interest in a simple head shot but in accord with Lennon's agreement with Leibovitz. According to a note in that issue, Lennon himself had said of the pose, "You've captured our relationship exactly."
After Leibovitz left Rolling Stone, she signed on with Vanity Fair as what Shames called the magazine's "Major Photographic Artist"—at least in theory. Promised the creative freedom to shoot whatever she liked, she nevertheless soon found illustrative covers giving way once again to portraits—snapped by another prominent photographer, Irving Penn. Leibovitz found herself "underutilized," Kanner reported. She began to consider a change in direction, a change of image. For one thing, she told Shames, "I've got to shake this reputation as the girl who gets people to undress. Besides," she added, "I've been realizing lately that the real intimacy is in the eyes. The real challenge is to get the shirt-off feeling but with the shirt on." Leibovitz also thought of returning to black-and-white photography and straight journalistic work. "Anything to move beyond this narrow little category of what people insist on calling the celebrity portrait," she said.
Within a year of changing jobs Leibovitz also expressed second thoughts about the pace of her hectic work life. In an interview with Harper's Bazaar, she noted that she "used to do nothing but work," but that now, moving into the 1980s, she was beginning to date. Still driven by a competitive streak—"I can't stand it when I see a better picture. I really go crazy," she told a Harper's Bazaar contributor—she nonetheless began to entertain thoughts of reprioritizing her life. "I find that having been a photographer for so many years makes me better at it," she observed, "and more relaxed about it. For the first time in my life, I can conceive of putting my work to one side, getting it into perspective and getting on with my life."
Shots That Sell
The lull was temporary. When a colleague suggested Leibovitz try spending some of her time on advertising work, she was "floored" at first, Kanner quoted. "I never figured I should be doing that." But she eventually took the advice, and a stint with the American Express credit card company proved particularly suited to her talents. The company did not require their product to appear in her photographs, and they gave her a great deal of latitude in posing her sitters. Leibovitz depicted Christian pop singer Amy Grant walking on water, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tip O'Neill lounging in a beach chair with a cigar stubbed out in the sand, and jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald in a leopard-skin coat with her 1959 Mercedes convertible, among others.
For Leibovitz, advertising was both familiar territory and a startling new world. As she told Kanner in New York, the photographer observed a similarity between advertising and her previous work, as distinguished from journalism: "Journalism is creeping in on events happening in front of you over which you have no control. I've moved into the terrain of making pictures, composing, theater. I don't see much difference between this and my editorial work." But she found another aspect of advertising strange and somewhat daunting: "Before American Express, I truly didn't know what advertising was. But then I saw my pictures on the back cover here, on the inside cover there, and . . . I felt a little panic. I didn't know it would be this big. Suddenly, I worried that the work wasn't good enough." Hundreds of cardholders requesting reprints of her ads proved that worry unfounded, however, and another client reported an eight percent increase in sales after her ad ran. Leibovitz received several awards for her American Express work, making the "Portraits" advertising campaign one of the most acclaimed ever. Her advertising work later involved her in commissions for Gap and for the milk board, photographing famous people with milk moustaches.
In 1990 Leibovitz got her wish to return to black- and-white photography, at least for a while, with the bonus of indulging her longstanding interest in dance. Asked to document the White Oak Dance Project in Florida, she did posed and casual pictures of the choreographers and the dancers, including internationally renowned dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. The experience, which extended for three weeks, inspired her to continue to "explore the possibilities of blending her posed work and her more casual imagery," Hagen reported. This work eventually led to the publication of her book, Dancers.
Celebrity Photographer of Celebrities
By 1991 Leibovitz had attained such stature that the International Center for Photography and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., mounted a retrospective of her twenty-year career. The exhibit marked only the second time such an exhibition was held for a living photographer, and record crowds turned out for the show. The total attendance for its five-week run at the Portrait Gallery equaled a year's normal attendance at the gallery, or around 300,000 thousand people. Leibovitz's career was also celebrated in an accompanying book titled Photographs—Annie Leibovitz, 1970-1990. Reviewing the book for the New York Times Book Review, Christine Schwartz dubbed Leibovitz "the modern equivalent of a court painter." Echoing Tighe's opinion that her work's significance hinges on the public's love of celebrities, Schwartz nevertheless commended Leibovitz's ability to "achieve the combination of glamour, intimacy and wit we demand of celebrity pictures." To Schwartz, the collection confirmed Leibovitz as "our day's most gifted photographer of the stars." Richard Lacayo, writing in Time, assessed her portraits with reservations, finding them somewhat paradoxical. Asserted Lacayo, "Leibovitz's best-known work . . . tries to twit propriety in the slickest possible style." In a more favorable appraisal, Maddy Miller of People, noting that Leibovitz is "still making waves," suggested that "this extraordinary 20-year retrospective may quickly be eclipsed by the photographer's continuing triumphs."
Leibovitz made it clear to Hagen in ARTnews that she was not the type to rest on her laurels. "I don't think, How is the work going to look in history, . . ." she remarked. "I've always been interested in how the pictures will look as a body of work, over my lifetime. My interest has always been in how the work changes and grows." Reflecting on her beginnings and her career, she noted how her focus shifted in her first two decades. "The early work was about not altering what you see, and the later work is about being involved, wanting to arrange things," she explained. "But more important than whether it's altered or not is whether it's really what I want to do. I think I'm starting to finally do work for myself that I don't expect to see published—which is a whole new idea for me."
Despite her change in creative direction, Leibovitz has continued to exhibit her uncanny ability to get subjects to let down their guard. This talent has generated several photo collections, among them her stunning photographs of athletes. Leibovitz served as the official photographer of the 1985 World Cup Games in Mexico, and in 1996 the Atlantic Committee named her the official photographer of the U.S. Olympic Team. Her photos in this capacity were published in Vanity Fair and in Sports Illustrated, and also form the core of the book Olympic Portraits. Leibovitz did not rely on the games themselves for her portraits, but instead traveled around the United States for three years prior to the Olympics, capturing on film images of these athletes training that reflect their true character. Her black-and-white photos of U.S. Olympians comprise a "stunning collection," according to Marianne Le Pelley writing in the Christian Science Monitor. Le Pelley also noted that Leibovitz's shots "have a unique artistic quality not generally associated with traditional sports photography."
Her work with longtime friend and writer Susan Sontag resulted in the 1999 book Women, which records a gathering of 170 women and reflects an exhibition of photographs that Leibovitz staged in both New York City and Washington, D.C. Susie Linfield, reviewing the book in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, called it a "high-concept coffee-table project" that includes photos of celebrities ranging from Hillary Rodham Clinton to actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Drew Barrymore, and musicians such as Patti Smith and Courtney Love. Lesser-known women also were included in the collection: soldiers, cheerleaders, and students. Noting that, "at heart . . . Leibovitz remains a celebrity photographer," Linfield cited the photo of a well-known fashion model breastfeeding her son in high heels and fur coat as "the single best photo" in the collection. Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman called the book a "superb gallery of women. . . . all commanding attention and respect," while Rebecca Miller in Library Journal dubbed it an "amazing array of photographs and individuals." Melanie Stetson Freeman, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, commented that Leibovitz, "one of the great portrait photographers of our time, turns her lens on American women, famous and obscure." Freeman further noted that the portraits in the volume are "straightforward" and with "no gimmicks."
In 2001 Leibovitz, then aged fifty-two, took time off from her work as a photographer to give birth to a daughter, whom she named after groundbreaking Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. Motherhood did not slow down her photographic production, however. Traveling across the United States to capture images of some of America's greatest musicians and the physical backgrounds that helped shape them, she also collected another books' worth of images. A "fascinating and ambitious project," according to Mark Sinclair in Creative Review, American Images "pays homage to musicians," explained Bellafante, "the great proportion of them well-known, but many relatively obscure." While famous performers such as Tony Bennett are captured by Leibovitz, his image appears alongside many musicians who have not made it onto the covers of magazines, such as bluegrass musicians and gospel singers. According to Bellafante, "the book's preoccupation is an overpowering nostalgia for music—and life, one assumes—as it was lived in the pre-digital age."
With both her books and her exhibitions, Leibovitz has secured her place in American popular culture. According to Lacayo, "She brought a pagan abandon to the authorized depiction of celebrities, a bit of primeval fire for the image machine." Even more, Shames reported, she became "the most resourceful and influential portraitist of her generation." Commenting in Esquire, Leibovitz reflected upon her career in more modest terms: "In the early days at Rolling Stone, I remember thinking that I was documenting our times. And if I photograph Soledad prison or [actress] Jodie Foster, I'm still photographing my time."
If you enjoy the works of Annie Leibovitz
If you enjoy the works of Annie Leibovitz, you may also want to check out the following:
The portrait photographs of Philippe Halsman (1906-1979), Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002), and Richard Avedon (1923-2004).
Biographical and Critical Sources
Leibovitz, Annie, Photographs, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1983.
Leibovitz, Annie, Photographs—Annie Leibovitz, 1970-1990, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Marcus, Adrianne, The Photojournalist: Mary Ellen Mark and Annie Leibovitz, Crowell (New York, NY), 1974.
Newsmakers '88, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989, pp. 248-249.
Adweek, February 1, 1988.
American Photographer, January, 1984, Laurence Shames, "On the Road with Annie Leibovitz," pp. 38-39, 44-59; February, 1988.
Art in America, April, 1984.
ARTnews, March, 1992, Charles Hagen, "Annie Leibovitz Reveals Herself," pp. 90-95.
Arts, February, 1984.
Booklist, November 1, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of Women, p. 498.
Chicago Tribune, December 23, 1983; May 5, 1991, p. 1.
Christian Science Monitor, November 17, 1983; December 5, 1996, Marianne Le Pelley, review of Olympic Portraits, p. B4; December 9, 1999, Melanie Stetson Freeman, review of Women, p. 17.
Creative Review, November, 2003, Mark Sinclair, review of American Music, p. 86.
Economist, November 6, 1999, review of Women, p. 90.
Esquire, December, 1991, Annie Leibovitz, "Behind the Photographs," pp. 124-133.
Harper's Bazaar, June, 1984, pp. 146-147, 180.
Investor's Business Daily, Marilyn Alva, "Annie Leibovitz Stays Focused in Preparation," p. A4.
Library Journal, November 15, 1999, Rebecca Miller, review of Women, p. 65.
Los Angeles Times, November 9, 1983.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 19, 1999, Susie Linfield, review of Women, p. 9.
Newsday, December 4, 1983.
New York, September 19, 1983, pp. 88-89; March 14, 1988, Bernice Kanner, "Annie in Adland: Photo Opportunities," pp. 24, 26, 28.
New York Daily News, November 30, 1986, p. 3.
New York Times, October 9, 1983; January 14, 2000, Vicki Goldberg, review of Women (exhibition), section 2, p. 47; February 18, 2000, Ken Johnson, review of Women (exhibition), section 2, p. 44; April 7, 2000, section 2, p. 45; October 26, 2003, Gina Bellafante, review of American Music, section 2, p. 1.
New York Times Book Review, October 23, 1983, p. 31; January 26, 1992, Christine Schwartz, "Shooting Stars," p. 20.
New York Woman, September, 1988, p. 100.
People, November 18, 1991, Maddy Miller, review of Photographs—Annie Leibovitz, 1970-1990, p. 31.
Publishers Weekly, November 16, 1990, pp. 34-35.
Rolling Stone, January 22, 1981, p. 5.
Time, September 30, 1991, Richard Lacayo, "Shadows and Eye Candy," pp. 72-74.
USA Today Magazine, September, 1997, Robert S. Rothenberg, "Annie Leibovitz: Celebrity Photographer," p. 81.
Vanity Fair, September, 1991.
Wall Street Journal, September 10, 1987.
Washington Post, December 4, 1984, p. 1; April 19, 1991, p. 1; October 24, 1999, Paula Span, "The Restless Eye," p. G1; March 22, 2001, Jessica Dawson, "The Postmodern Pinup; Miss March, as Seen by Annie Leibovitz," p. C1; September 11, 2001, Roxanne Roberts, "Preserved on Camera, and on the Planet," p. C1.
Washington Post Book World, November 27, 1983, May Anne Tighe, "Portraits of Grandeur and Decadence." pp. 5, 9, 11.
Powells.com,http://www.powells.com/ (November 23, 1999), Dave Weich, interview with Leibovitz.*
"Leibovitz, Annie." Authors and Artists for Young Adults. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/leibovitz-annie
"Leibovitz, Annie." Authors and Artists for Young Adults. . Retrieved September 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/leibovitz-annie