For modern American photography, the name Annie Leibovitz is iconic. She is arguably one of the most talented and in-demand photographers of our time. Very versatile, she can captivate in any genre, though she first gained fame as a portrait photographer. Among its models – faces, many times appeared in front of the lens of professional cameras. But only Leibovitz manages to capture the essence of a person so precisely that the portrait later becomes his symbol: Demi Moore, Mick Jagger, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Patti Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Scarlett Johansson – this is not a complete list..
Nicole Kidman, New York. 2003 Chromogenic Footprint
Annie was born in 1949 in Westport, Connecticut, the third of six children in a family of a United States Air Force officer. Her maternal great-grandparents were Jewish immigrants from America, and her father’s parents came to America from Romania. The family often moved from one military base to another. Annie took her first pictures in the Philippines, where her father served during the Vietnam War. It was landscapes, family and genre photography. Already in high school the girl was interested in creativity, playing musical instruments. After graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute, she traveled to Israel, where she worked on an archaeological expedition on excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was there that Leibowitz made the decision to become a photographer.
Annie’s career began in 1970 with Rolling Stone magazine. After getting a job there as a freelance correspondent, she shot musicians for thirteen years and eventually became the publication’s chief photographer. Later she was invited to the most “star” magazine of America, Vanity Fair, with which she successfully cooperates to this day.
In the early 1990s Annie opened her own studio in New York, shooting fashion for Vogue magazine and ad campaigns for famous brands like Louis Vuitton, Disney, Gap and others. Leibowitz is not just a photographer, she is a chronicler of an entire era: from the Rolling Stones to the Trumps to Queen Elizabeth. Her list of awards, besides the Grammys, includes even a “living legend” from the Library of American Congress, and the titles of “best photographer of the year” in categories ranging from portraiture to fashion and advertising photography or “best cover of the decade” are countless.
Today, Leibowitz, 62, is the American establishment’s chief portraitist, the goddess of magazine glamour, an icon of the feminist and libertarian movement, a lady whose biography is always a talking point. Maybe that’s why the book and the exhibition with the same title Annie Leibovitz was conceived. Life of a Photographer. 1990-2005 Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life, 1990-2005 . But not just because she wanted to show her personal life as that of an ordinary American woman. There were other reasons.
In 1990, Annie released her first retrospective album, Photographs 1970-1990, created with the help of her close friend, American cultural historian and writer Susan Zontag. It has collected work from her earliest experiences to 1990. This is sort of the first part of today’s retrospective. Then she was represented at the International Center of Photography New York , in many countries of Europe and Asia, as well as in Australia. In 2000 the exhibition was shown by the New York House of Photography at the Manege. The second part of the retrospective began at the Brooklyn Museum October 2006 , after which the exhibition went on its successful international tour.
Susan Zontag, Petra, Jordan. 1994
The material in the book and on display is more than brilliant portraits of celebrity vanity fair regulars. It’s not just the iconic work of America’s most successful and best-paid photographer. It is a kind of biography in photographs, or rather, an account of the last fifteen years of her life and work, full of happy and tragic moments. “Diary” – such a concept of the exhibition shows that Leibovitz does not divide her life into the professional, the creative, the personal – everything is one, interacts and intertwines, everything reflects the state of mind of a person at one time or another. “I only have one life…” – Annie says. That is why you can find cards from the Leibovitz family archive next to Barack Obama, Jack Nicholson and Nicole Kidman. Group photos from the White House, parade portraits of generals, shots from the set of the “Star Wars” movie epic are juxtaposed with touching images of children, photos from travel, and the most intimate shots from personal lives.
– It’s not that I’m always going through my photographs,” Annie Leibovitz explains. – “I just love to take pictures. As long as I am able to stand and shoot, I realize that the value of my work is not in the individual images. It’s all together. Photos are like brothers and sisters, they need each other. I don’t single out one picture or the other. I love making books and exhibitions, because then there is a play between the photos, each one means more because of the one next to it. I’m not someone who works for the sake of a good picture, I think it limits photography.
Portrait photography has been around since the invention of photography, and there have been photographers recognized as great portrait photographers. Annie Leibovitz gave the genre a different sound.
– When I came to Vanity Fair, I was told I had to be Edward Steichen of the magazine. The great tradition of great portraiture,” she says of her work, and continues. – No one would have guessed it would turn toward pop or hip. And it turned out… it turned out very “brilliantly.
Leibovitz’s skill as a “fashionable portrait photographer” is now a common theme. Existing within the framework of strict commercial conditions, meeting the complex requirements of a variety of customers of glossy products, Annie does not give up one bit in the artistic quality of the works she creates. She is perhaps among the few who could be called Richard Avedon’s “disciples. He managed to raise glossy magazine photography to the level of high art back in the 1950s. Speaking of Leibovitz’s method, one can’t help but note special traits unique to her. With the help of “special techniques” the photographer manages to characterize a person in a slightly deeper way than even he sometimes poses himself. Her most successful works are an eloquent proof of that.
Among them is a bright Nicole Kidman in a pile of dress folds, something ethereal, “golden,” ready to take off like a rocket and disappear into the starry distances. Closed and strong Leonardo di Caprio with a swan. Something mythical – Swan and Leda? Minimalist artist Agnes Martin in the interior of her modest studio. Or the “collective portrait of Cindy Sherman,” who has always hidden behind masks, now you have to guess again which of the heroines here is Cindy? There are a great many of them, these beautiful finds that accurately reveal the essence of a person, a situation, a destiny… But don’t look for psychologism. Is that important for “glossy” heroes.
My brother Philip and my father, Silver Spring, Maryland. 1988
Portraitist Leibovitz is not one to have a dialogue with a model. She explains that she’s looking for a subject, not exploring a soul! Does Annie capture the essence of the people she photographs?? No! “And you can look inside the man in the portrait? And a lot of photographers say that’s impossible,” says Leibovitz. “There is the moment, there is the one who poses in front of the camera, and there is the photographer who is in control. People don’t want to give you what they think is their essence, they want to portray a certain character, and that’s different. If you’re photographing an “actor,” why not come up with a little story!? And the cover isn’t really a photograph, it’s more of an advertisement,” Annie continues. – The real portraits live inside the magazine.”
Leibovitz doesn’t like the word “celebrity,” “star”: “I had the opportunity to work with people who were the best: actors, writers, athletes, dancers I felt like I was shooting people who were standing up.
She never treats her work as anything outstanding, but she is flattered by comparisons to Avedon. The exhibition has a portrait of the master and a “portrait” of his camera. “Avedon was a genius of communication I only observe.”. When she photographs Vesuvius or the Valley of Monuments, as if casually remarking: “I think in a similar situation Adams would have hired a helicopter too, he loved new technology.”.
Her camera doesn’t flatter anyone, doesn’t ingratiate itself to anyone. It’s not that she doesn’t care who she photographs, though she wouldn’t change her optics even for the Queen of England. No veils, no complicated light manipulation. She shoots simply, sometimes ruthlessly, aloof, impassioned, penetrating. Not many of her models can handle it. They say that few people want to repeat a session with her.
Annie confesses that she has trouble connecting with people. She didn’t need revelations, soulful intimacy. She knows the world and mores of show business as well as the interiors of the New York and Paris grand hotels where most of her magazine shoots take place. That’s probably why she longed to get away from Hollywood pavilions and suites and into the great outdoors, out into the wild, untamed wilderness and epic landscapes. In 1993 Annie even agreed to sign a contract with Conde Nast Traveller so that she could stop shooting famous people and start photographing something else: the sacred rocks of Jordan, the somber beaches of Costa Rica, the mythological power of the Altar of Pergamum.
But everyone expected and wanted only one thing from Leibovitz: stars. That’s why her grandiose on-location shoots remained a documentation of a dream that lived apart from commissions, professional successes, and personal circumstances, including the birth of her children, communion with her many kin, the death of her father, and her beloved Susan. One day she thought, “I’ve forgotten all about my own life when I’ve been filming other people. And then the Photographer’s life album was born, and an exhibition appeared which has been touring the world for six years now, arousing great public interest. That is probably why the cold, detached stellar beauty neighbors with something familiar, close, so familiar and recognizable to everyone. And everybody finds what he wants to find and see what he wants to see.
Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rob Besserer, Cumberland Island, Georgia. 1990
All the personal things in the photographs: the children, the cheerful dancing mother on the beach, the serious sisters, the athlete brother in bathing shorts, and the father, a former military pilot, World War II veteran, with a stern noble face – this is a kind of “daughter love.”. But not a single “family photo” features Susan. On the next pages of the album, she’s another part of Annie Leibovitz’s life. And she was destined to be its main character.
In pictures of life and death, black and white and color. And love. And death. And a farewell to love. And the meeting with her is somewhere else, not here, but in some other dimension, in another space, which has no name. Annie herself compared working on this major album of her life to an archeological dig. It’s not figurative – literally so. For a month, she went to her New York studio on Vandam Street every morning to sort through piles of undeveloped film and black and white contacts piled up. What she was looking for? And why every time she started crying as soon as she crossed the threshold of the studio? It was something of a ritual: she worked and there was music. The same Rosana Cash Black Caddilac tape that Annie used to play very loud. And so it goes day after day, all month long. The pain of loss went away as the number of unviewed films diminished. The outlines of the future book gradually began to take shape and her favorite faces appeared: Susan, Dad, Sarajevo, Jordan, Venice, the last trip to Paris, the children, Mom, Susan again..
Susan Sontag. Writer, philosopher, icon of American feminism, one of the key figures of Western intellectual life in the 1970s and 1980s. Ironically, one of Susan’s most famous essays was about photography. In pictures of Leibovitz we see a pensive, sad, elderly woman with spectacular gray strands entangled in a mop of blue-black hair, or already quite gray, short haircut. She doesn’t pose for the stubborn camera she lives in the pictures, as if she didn’t notice the lens pointing at her. It’s just that over the long years of her affair with Annie, she got used to it. Here are her sketches in notebooks for the future bestseller Volcano lover, here are the sea-polished rocks she collected on the beach in Mexico. The view from the windows of her apartment. A collection of seashells, stomped sneakers, morning coffee on a hotel terrace in Capri, a camping cot in Sarajevo.
Quai de Grand Augustin, Paris December 2003.
The camera never tires of admiring the calmness of her face, the nobility of her posture, the exquisite beauty of her hands. But there’s something unsettling in this amorous and greedy gaze, in the holler that seems to be heard from behind the camera: “Look at me!” It seems to voice every shot of Susan. And when she admires the sunrise over the Seine, and when she stoically endures the pain in the hospital room, and when after the birth of Annie first picks up her newborn daughter – the camera follows her, does not let her go, as if afraid to lose sight of. Susan in Venice sailing past San Michele, the island of the dead, Susan on the Nile waddling chillyly in a warm blanket, Susan at home, in New York, on the balcony of an apartment on London Terrace… Look at this! Who needs all those portraits and landscapes if you can’t see them?? Never again..
Susan has always been a very important part of Annie’s life. There was an emotional, intellectual connection between them, much needed by each. Sontag belonged to the world of words, Leibowitz to the world of images. They complemented each other. They were unexplored parts of themselves. The exhibit and album seem to reconcile Leibovitz with a reality in which Zontag no longer exists. But here are some memories and this “memorial” project, which not only discourages by its frankness, but also shocks by its bold and for some reason never occurred to anyone before: to show all of the photographer’s works. And those that are customary to show at exhibitions, and those that are taken simply for home use, as everyone does. Guileless or merciless. Do we all take pictures of our deceased loved ones and then show these pictures?? Only a professional photographer can do that, or maybe it’s a kind of schizophrenia or psychotherapy?
And while the first retrospective was the time of Rolling Stone, the time of her first steps in advertising and fashion, the beginning of her years of collaboration with Vanity Fair, the current one begins where the first one ended – the nineties. And this is some other, unfamiliar Leibovitz:
– I had no idea how many photographs I had, in addition to being edited and arranged according to the assignments of magazines and advertising campaigns,” Annie admits.
Patti Smith and her children, Jackson and Jesse, St. Clair Shores, Mich. 1996
And we, it must be said, have not given much thought until now to the fact that Leibovitz has some other life besides Vanity Fair and expensive advertising projects. But she was determined to convince the world otherwise. The ratio “fifty to fifty” is strictly observed in the exposition. And even the press is warned on purpose that in case one official magazine picture is published, one of the pictures of the parents or sisters with nephews will have to be included. Staged, theatrically effective photos somehow do not conflict with what are usually called “amateur”. Small touching pictures from personal archives and huge ceremonial portraits can easily get along on the same wall. Here’s a dying father in bed, his wife and son by his side. Father, just gone, on the same bed that became his deathbed. A widowed mother and orphaned daughters the next day. A prepared grave in a Jewish cemetery in Olney, Maryland – two more days later. The sense of loss in this newsreel is no less than that of, for example, the boy who was killed by a sniper in Sarajevo he was just riding his bicycle . The picture of this bicycle gives rise to the same pinching feeling.
An abridged version of this exhibition was on view at the Hermitage this summer. A hundred photos – about half of the original version. In New York at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts she was photographed for the first time. And. with. All of the works in the exhibit, including the three huge boards facing each other, are on display at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. They have “controls” and “contacts” chaotically pinned on them, family shots on the right, custom shots on the left a rudimentary comparison, “personal” and “professional”. Working materials, from which the most successful shots are usually selected – in the following rooms they acquire the desired scale.
Hillary Clinton once said of Leibovitz: her photos encapsulate our lives, what we think is important to us. According to the photographer, life left behind is much more complicated. And it is she, this living life, that is especially important.
This article was prepared with contributions from Annie Leibovitz. Life through a lens.
Lee Boveri, Vandam Street Studio, New York. 1993
My parents, Peters Pond Beach, Wainscott, Long Island. 1992
Brad Pitt, Las Vegas. 1994
Susan Sontag, Venice. 1994
Silver-gelatin prints contact
Philip Johnson, Glass House, New Canaan, Connecticut. 2000