TribeAnnie Leibovitz: Photographer of a wild and glamorous America

Annie Leibovitz is more than a name, more than a lens or a frame, it is an unmistakable seal. The American photographer enters any selection of the best editorial photographers in the world.
Tanya Akkari Tanya Akkari104412 min

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Annie Leibovitz is more than a name, more than a lens or a frame, it is an unmistakable seal. The American photographer enters any selection of the best editorial photographers in the world.

She is best known for theatrical, refined and masterfully illuminated portraits of famous subjects. Her work polarizes judgments. For some, she is a great photographer whose images are absolute portraits of our time, while others believe that they are only flatteries and celebrations of famous people.

Leibovitz in front of her More Demi Moore Vanity Fair cover photo, 2008 | Image Source: Wikipedia

Annie Leibovitz was born on October 2, 1949 in Connecticut, United States. She is the third daughter of the Jewish couple composed by Samuel Leibovitz, Lieutenant Colonel of the Armed Forces, and Marilyn Heit, a dance teacher. She spent her childhood and part of her youth traveling from airbase to airbase, and thus developed her first interest in photography as a means of preserving her memories. 

The first thing I did with my very first camera was climb Mt. Fuji. Climbing Mt. Fuji is a lesson in determination and moderation. It would be fair to ask if I took the moderation part to heart. But it certainly was a lesson in respecting your camera. If I was going to live with this thing, I was going to have to think about what that meant. There were not going to be any pictures without it.

Her artistic hobbies led her in 1967 to settle in San Francisco to attend the School of Fine Arts. There, at a time when society was changing and did so taking the streets, Leibovitz managed to capture the spirit of the protests, politics and rock’n’roll of the seventies. So much so, that her photograph of Allen Ginsberg smoking a joint on an anti-Vietnam march was published, even though she was a beginner.After living briefly in an Israeli kibbutz, Leibovitz returned to the U.S. in 1970, and applied for a job with the rock music magazine ‘Rolling Stones’, which was still a small publication that was just beginning. Impressed with Leibovitz’s portfolio, editor Jann Wenner offered her a job as a photographer.

Since then, she became an independent photographer for the publication, who agreed to pay her a salary of $47 per week. At just 23 years old, she became the head photographer of the magazine in which she spent more than a decade, touring the world and portraying all the icons of pop-rock music of the 70’s and early 80s’ as Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis or Bruce Springsteen. With this magazine, she accompanied the Rolling Stone band on their concert tour for a year. The resulting images were called the most eloquent ever made on the world of rock and roll, capturing the essence of music accompanied by the sex and drugs paraphernalia of those years. She thus became the rebel photographer who captured the American life of the 70’s. The new decade that was about to begin brought some changes in her work.

I’ve said about a million times that the best thing a young photographer can do is to stay close to home. Start with your friends and family, the people who will put up with you. Discover what it means to be close to your work, to be intimate with a subject. Measure the difference between that and working with someone you don’t know as much about. Of course there are many good photographs that have nothing to do with staying close to home, and I guess what I’m really saying is that you should take pictures of something that has meaning for you…

On December 8, 1980 she photographed John Lennon in his apartment for the cover of Rolling Stone and a few hours after the photo shoot, the musician was killed by Mark David Chapman in New York. The cover on which Lennon appears naked and in a fetal position with his wife was published on January 22, 1981 without headlines.

In 1983, she left Rolling Stone magazine and began working for Vanity Fair magazine, charging more than two million dollars annually. It was in this magazine where, for ten years, she made numerous significant covers where she reflected the American society of that decade. With a wider range of subjects, Leibovitz’s photographs ranged from presidents to literary icons or teenage gallants.

In 1986, she worked on a series of posters for the World Cup in Mexico and in 1988 portrayed various personalities for an American Express advertising campaign, for which she received the Clio award.

She was also the author of the last photograph of Richard Nixon as president of the United States, taken as he was boarding the helicopter that took him away from the White House. After leaving Vanity Fair, she worked for other prestigious publications such as Life and Vogue. 

In 1990 she founded the Annie Leibovitz Studio in New York and in 1991 she became the first woman to exhibit her work at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.

Fascinated by the nudes, in 1991 she caused great controversy when she posed for the actress Demi Moore naked and eight months pregnant. The image caused such a sensation that all the magazine’s distributors in the country except New York put it on sale with the cover partially covered. Fascinated by nudity, Annie caused great controversy when the actress Demi Moore, naked and eight months pregnant, posed for her in 1991. The image caused such a sensation that all the magazine’s distributors in the country except New York, put it on sale with the cover partially covered. Annie searches for beauty in her photographs and manages to find it by getting closer to the soul of her subjects while maintaining a subtle veil of detachment that allows her to tell, almost impartially, even the last days of her companion’s life, Susan Sontag. 

Photography’s like this baby that needs to be fed all the time. It’s always hungry. It needs to be read to, taken care of. I had to nourish my work with different approaches. One of the reasons that I went to Vanity Fair was that I knew I would have a broader range of subjects – writers, dancers, artists and musicians of all kinds. And I wanted to learn about glamour. I admire the work of photographers like Beaton, Penn, and Avedon, as much as I respected grittier photographers such as Robert Frank. But in the same way that I’d had to find my own way of reportage, I had to find my own form of glamour.



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Tanya Akkari

Tanya Akkari

Having studied International Relations, there’s a present passion for different cultures, people and history which gives rise to an interest in learning and writing about all those subjects.

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