Monday, July 23, 2007

Annie Leibovitz

Since my last posting was about an America photographer and since Vanity Fair has recently run an issue devoted to her work I thought I'd dedicate this entry to Annie Leibovitz, perhaps the most famous living portrait photographer.

Her shots of celebrities, including musicians, politicians and athletes, have been celebrated worldwide. Leibovitz strives to incorporate the public persona of her subject or sitter into each of her photos. Rather than static headshots, Leibovitz often uses her subject's entire body, most often while in motion, to dispel any artificial qualities. She has photographed for magazines as well as prestigious advertisers, such as Gap and American Express. She is one of only two living photographers to have had an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery.

Born in 1949 in Waterbury, Connecticut, she enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute intent on studying painting. It was not until she traveled to Japan with her mother the summer after her sophomore year that she discovered her interest in taking photographs. When she returned to San Francisco that fall, she began taking night classes in photography. Time spent on a kibbutz in Israel allowed her to hone her skills further.

In 1970 she approached Jann Wenner, founding editor of Rolling Stone, which he'd recently launched and was operating out of San Francisco. Impressed with her portfolio, Wenner gave Leibovitz her first assignment: shoot John Lennon. Her black-and-white portrait of the shaggy-looking Beatle graced the cover of the January 21, 1971 issue. Two years later she was named Rolling Stone chief photographer. And so began a career that has spanned more than three decades.

Her first photography book was published in 1983. The same year she joined Vanity Fair and was made the magazine's first contributing photographer. She became known for her wildly lit, staged, and provocative portraits of celebrities. Most famous among them are Whoopi Goldberg submerged in a bath of milk (my personal all-time favorite) and Demi Moore naked and holding her pregnant belly. (The cover showing Moore -- which then-editor Tina Brown initially balked at running -- was named second best cover from the past 40 years.) Since then Leibovitz has photographed celebrities ranging from Brad Pitt to Mikhail Baryshnikov. She's shot Ellen DeGeneres, the George W. Bush cabinet, Michael Moore, Madeleine Albright, and Bill Clinton. She's shot Scarlett Johannson and Keira Knightley nude, with Tom Ford in a suit; Nicole Kidman in ball gown and spotlights; and, recently, the world's long-awaited first glimpse of Suri Cruise, along with parents Tom and Katie. Her portraits have appeared in Vogue, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and in ad campaigns for Am Ex, the Gap, and the Milk Board.

Among other honors, Leibovitz has been made a Commandeur des Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government and has been designated a living legend by the Library of Congress. Her first museum show, Photographs: Annie Liebovitz 1970-1990, took place in 1991 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and toured internationally for six years. At the time she was only the second living portraitist -- and the only woman -- to be featured in an exhibition by the institution.

She met her long-time partner Susan Sontag in 1989 while photographing the writer for her book Aids And Its Metaphors. Though the two kept separate apartments, their relationship lasted until Sontag's death in late 2004.

Her most recent book, A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005, includes her trademark celebrity portraits as well as personal photographs from her life. She called the collection "a memoir in photographs," was spurred to assemble it by the deaths of Sontag and her father, only weeks apart. The book even includes photos of herself, like the one that shows her nude and eight months pregnant, à la Demi Moore. That picture was taken in 2001, shortly before Leibovitz gave birth to daughter Sarah. Daughters Susan and Samuelle, named in honor of Susan and Leibovitz's father, were born to a surrogate in 2005. See other amazing examples of this living legend's work at:

Research info provided by: (Rachel Somerstein/writer)

Now here's a poem worth photographing:

Bad Disguise

Several years later Friday night arrives without a
suitcase, wearing shaving cream as a mask and
wrinkled clothes, too out-of-style for even the
cha-cha-cha, sweat-stained panama hat
pulled down low doesn't fool me one
bit. I'd know it by that slow pull
in its walk or simply by the
unmistakable cling of an
arsenal of cockroach
bombs that bang
together in its
pockets all
the way
up the
hill to
convenience store.

This poem first appeared online in the e-book
"Unstill Life" at:
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