Episode #10 of the course Most famous photographers of all time
Annie Leibovitz is an American portrait photographer who is considered one of the greatest living artists. She was lead photographer at Rolling Stone magazine for over two decades, shooting hundreds of images for them. She regularly shoots for Vanity Fair and Vogue, as well as for The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker. Her work appears in over one dozen galleries, including those at the Smithsonian Museum and the Library of Congress. When the American Society of Magazine Editors ranked their top magazine covers of the last 40 years, Leibovitz images took the top two spots.
Born in Connecticut, Leibovitz studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute and discovered a love of photography on a family trip to Japan. When she returned to the US, she added photography to her studies. In 1970, she approached the lead editor of the newly founded Rolling Stone magazine, which was headquartered in San Francisco. Her first assignment for the magazine was to photograph John Lennon.
Over the last 45 years, Leibovitz has photographed everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to Bob Marley—from Suri Cruise’s first public baby pictures to Whoopi Goldberg in a bathtub of milk. She photographed exclusively in black and white during the early years of her career, until Rolling Stone began publishing in color. Then she taught herself to shoot in color. Her portraits are highly posed, dramatic, and well-orchestrated. The lighting and settings are all carefully chosen and crafted. She is interested in capturing something truly unique.
The image chosen as the best magazine cover of the last 40 years is the cover of Rolling Stone from January 22, 1981. In the image, John Lennon is fully nude, curled around his clothed wife, Yoko Ono; neither is looking at the camera. Leibovitz took the image a few hours before Lennon was shot to death on December 8, 1980.
The image chosen as the second best magazine cover of the last 40 years is a cover Leibovitz shot for Vanity Fair in 1991. The image depicts a nude Demi Moore, a heavy seven months pregnant, holding her belly and breasts in pride. The cover was so controversial it was distributed covered in white or brown wrapping. Over 100 million people clamored to see it.
In 1989, Leibovitz met writer Susan Sontag, feminist personality and essayist. The two began a relationship that lasted until Sontag’s death in 2004, collaborating on projects that pushed boundaries around the definition of “women” and associated gender roles. Sontag inspired Leibovitz to publish her 1999 book, Women, which interposed images of famous female leaders of the 20th century with photographs of female soldiers, showgirls, and farm workers. In 2015, Leibovitz would continue to redefine femininity when she shot photos of Caitlyn Jenner’s first public appearance, wearing a silk bustier for the cover of Vanity Fair.
In a 2016 interview, Leibovitz stated that all her work is done before snapping an image. The power in any photo comes “from the sitter,” she says. Leibovitz is trying to let the person “be who they are” and capture that power in her images.
“A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005” by Annie Leibovitz
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