Photographer Annie Leibovitz was born October 2, 1949, in Waterbury, Connecticut. In 1970 she took a job at Rolling Stone magazine. In 1983 she began working for the entertainment magazine Vanity Fair. During the late 1980s, Leibovitz started to work on a number of high-profile advertising campaigns. From the 1990s to the present, she has been publishing and exhibiting her amazing work. She spearheaded the movement of music photography away from stage and studio portraiture to intimate, behind-the-scenes portrayals of musicians.
Johnny Depp and Kate Moss, 1994 by Annie Leibovitz
A few days ago, the world-famous photographer Anne-Lou “Annie” Leibovitz turned 64. Annie was the third of six children in the family of U.S. Air Force officer and her family moved often because her father’s duties. The first footage she filmed in the Philippines, where her father was stationed during the Vietnam War. Annie later studied at the San Francisco Art Institute. After living briefly on an Israeli kibbutz, Leibovitz returned to the U.S., in 1970, and applied for a job with the start-up rock music magazine Rolling Stone. Two years later she was named Rolling Stone chief photographer.
When the magazine began printing in color in 1974, Leibovitz followed suit. “In school, I wasn’t taught anything about lighting, and I was only taught black-and-white,” she told ARTnews in 1992. “So I had to learn color myself.” Among her subjects from that period are Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and Patti Smith. Leibovitz also served as the official photographer for the Rolling Stones’ 1975 world tour. While on the road with the band she produced her iconic black-and-white portraits of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, shirtless and gritty.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1975 by Annie Leibovitz
While with Rolling Stone, Leibovitz developed her trademark technique, which involved the use of bold primary colors and surprising poses. Wenner has credited her with making many Rolling Stone covers collector’s items.
In 1980 Rolling Stone sent Leibovitz to photograph John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who had recently released their album “Double Fantasy.” For the portrait Leibovitz imagined that the two would pose together nude. Lennon disrobed, but Ono refused to take off her pants. Leibovitz “was kinda disappointed,” according to Rolling Stone, and so she told Ono to leave her clothes on. “We took one Polaroid,” said Leibovitz, “and the three of us knew it was profound right away.” The resulting portrait shows Lennon nude and curled around a fully clothed Ono. Several hours later, Lennon was shot dead in front of his apartment. The photograph ran on the cover of the Rolling Stone Lennon commemorative issue. In 2005 the American Society of Magazine Editors named it the best magazine cover from the past 40 years.
Annie Leibovitz: Yoko Ono and John Lennon on pages of Vanity Fair Italia.
In 1983 she began a partnership with the magazine Vanity Fair and started shooting covers for the entertainment magazine, made for a memorable series of portrait photographs of celebrities. Most famous among them are Whoopi Goldberg submerged in a bath of milk 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).
Whoopi Goldberg in a bath of milk by Annie Leibovitz
With a wider array of subjects, Leibovitz’s photographs for Vanity Fair ranged from presidents to literary icons to teen heartthrobs. 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, and The New Yorker, and in ad campaigns for American Express, the Gap, and the Milk Board. To date, a number of Vanity Fair covers have featured Leibovitz’s stunning—and often controversial—portraits of celebrities.
Queen Elizabeth by Annie Leibovitz
Known for her ability to make her sitters become physically involved in her work, one of Leibovitz’s most famous portraits is of the late artist Keith Haring, who painted himself like one of his canvases for the photo.
Keith Haring shot by Annie Leibovitz, 1987
During the late 1980s, Leibovitz started to work on a number of high-profile advertising campaigns. The most notable was the American Express “Membership” campaign, for which her portraits of celebrity cardholders, like Elmore Leonard, Tom Selleck, and Luciano Pavarotti, earned her a 1987 Clio Award. In 1991, Leibovitz’s collection of over 200 color and black-and-white photographs were exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. 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. In 1996, Leibovitz was chosen as the official photographer of the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
Widely considered one of America’s best portrait photographers, Annie Leibovitz published the book Women (1999), which was accompanied by an essay by friend and novelist Susan Sontag. With its title subject matter, Leibovitz presented an array of female images from Supreme Court Justices to Vegas showgirls to coal miners and farmers throughout the United States. As busy as ever, Annie Leibovitz continues to be in demand as portrait photographer, often capturing arresting images of today’s celebrities.
Annie Leibovitz on the set with Whoopi Goldberg
In August 2000 issue of New York magazine, Andrew Goldman dissects Annie Leibovitz’s debt problems in his article, “How Could This Happen to Annie Leibovitz?” Leibovitz, one of today’s most successful photographers, has about $24 million in debt. Goldman discredits the idea that the so-called “gay tax” left Leibovitz unable to inherit her partner Susan Sontag’s estate without paying significant taxes. Most of Sontag’s estate, he says, went to Sontag’s son, not to Leibovitz. Relying mainly on interviews with those who have worked with her, Goldman argues that the real cause of Leibovitz’s debt is her tendency to spent outrageous amounts of money while on assignment, partly driven by her work ethic. “Leibovitz’s perfectionism led her to pay little or no attention to budget restrictions, and she spent money recklessly, losing cameras, accruing parking tickets, and even abandoning rental cars,” he writes. She also purchased millions of dollars worth of real estate. Meanwhile, estimates of her million-dollar contracts have been overblown, Goldman says. American Express made a special exception to get Leibovitz, whose application had previously been turned down, a credit card. But broke or not, her talent is amazing, and she’s steady on the line between Photojournalism and Art.
Rihanna for Vogue. April 2011 by Annie Leibovitz
Her most fantastical work to date–the ongoing “Dream Portraits” campaign for Disney Parks that casts Hollywood A-Listers as fabled characters–was the subject of a recent talk that brought the legendary photographer to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity recently. The work, she said, was emblematic of what happens when an agency and a brand allow an artist the freedom to ply her craft.
Aside from unpacking the process of how that campaign–created by agency Mcgarrybowen and featuring David Beckham as Prince Charming, Scarlett Johansson as Cinderella, Russell Brand as Captain Hook and Angelina Jolie as the evil queen Maleficent–came to life, Leibovitz also took some time to answer questions about her work as a whole.
Taylor Swift as Rapunzel by Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz on taking a shot: “I find that the attention span of subjects is not that long. I think sessions should be short, only a few minutes. I believe that a session should be shorter and I do a lot of work up front, so a subject can come in quickly and be done. Maybe five times a year you find someone you wish you could spend more time with. But the idea that you’re going to get the soul of the sitter in 15 minutes is garbage. Not for what we’re doing for magazines. I do find, and this is something I haven’t really capitalized on, that as soon as I tell them it’s over, they relax and look amazing. I should be starting the shoot then! If there’s another secret that I have, it’s that I’m not afraid to go back. I know that everyone thinks you can’t go back, but you can. (…) I sometimes find the surface interesting. To say that the mark of a good portrait is whether you get them or get the soul – I don’t think this is possible all of the time.” (Annie Leibovitz)
Anna-Lou “Annie” Leibovitz is an American portrait photographer.
Born: October 2, 1949, Waterbury, Connecticut, United States
Education: San Francisco Art Institute
Books: Photographs – Annie Leibovitz, 1970-1990 / Annie Leibovitz, A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005
Children: Sarah Cameron Leibovitz, Susan Leibovitz, Samuelle Leibovitz
Movies: Annie Leibovitz, Zoetrope