Annie Leibovitz is a famous portrait photographer whose photographs have appeared in a number of magazines and publications. Famous for clicking the portraits of celebrities, she began her career as a staff photographer for the ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine. Her artistic bent of mind was evident from her childhood. She loved to play music and studied painting in college. Inspired by the works of photographers like Richard Avedon and Robert Frank, she developed her own style of photographing people, exposing the intimate details of their personality in a poignant image. Her technique involves the use of bold colours and unconventional poses that often startle to create a long-lasting impression. One of her most famous photographs depicts the former Beatle John Lennon without clothes, curled around his fully clothed wife. She has worked with celebrities from all fields ranging from teen sensations to prominent political figures. Along with success, she has also had her share of criticisms—her picture of a seemingly topless teenage and a heavily pregnant actress without clothes invited the wrath of the conservative public. As a photographer, she does not view her subjects as celebrities; she views them as human beings with varied personality traits that can be artistically exposed. The award winning photographer is today considered to be among the best portrait photographers in the U.S.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born as one of the six children of Samuel Leibovitz, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and Marilyn Edith, a dance instructor.
As a school student she became involved in various artistic endeavors like painting and playing music. She began taking photographs when her father was stationed in Philippines during the Vietnam War.
She enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute to study painting. She also continued honing her photography skills during this period. She was deeply influenced by the works of photographers like Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
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She joined the newly launched magazine ‘Rolling Stone’ as a staff photographer in 1970. Impressed by her work, the publisher of the magazine made her the chief photographer in 1973.
Leibovitz’s signature style of portrait photography helped the magazine to create its unique look. She worked with the magazine till 1983.
She photographed the music band The Rolling Stone extensively during 1971 and 1972. The band loved her work and signed her up as the concert-tour photographer for their Tour of the Americas in 1975.
She got the opportunity to photograph the British singer Joan Armatrading in 1978 for an album, becoming the first woman to do so.
In 1980, she created one of her most famous works. She had a photo shoot with John Lennon for Rolling Stone magazine. Though initially she planned on clicking him alone, she changed her plans and photographed him with his wife in an unconventional pose, thereby creating an iconic image.
From 1983 she worked for the ‘Vanity Fair’ magazine and did an international advertising campaign for the American Express charge cards.
She held an exhibition of over 200 of her photographs at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. in 1991; she was the first woman portraitist to do so.
She took a photograph of a heavily pregnant Demi Moore for the ‘Vanity Fair’ in 1991. This set off a trend of other celebrities desiring to pose for photographs in advanced stages of pregnancy.
Over the next decade she took several celebrity photographs, many of them in intimate positions. She shot Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson, both without clothes with a fully clothed Tom Ford for a 2006 issue of ‘Vanity Fair’.
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A retrospective on her work based on her book ‘Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life, 1990-2005’ was held at the Brooklyn Museum from October 2006 to January 2007.
The exhibition that included professional as well as personal photographs taken by her was displayed on an international tour that included presentations at the Corcoran Gallery of Art from October 2007 to January 2008, and at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco from March to May 2008.
Her photograph of John Lennon without clothes curled up with his fully clothed wife is one of her most iconic images. Her attempt to re-create a kissing scene from the album cover of ‘Double Fantasy’ led to this strong picture which became her signature work.
She took a picture of a heavily pregnant Demi Moore without clothes for a cover of ‘Vanity Fair’ magazine in 1991. The photograph garnered critical acclaim as well as controversy because of its subject matter, and is regarded as one of her most famous celebrity photographs.
Awards & Achievements
She won the prestigious international advertising award, the Clio Award in 1987 for her celebrity photographs for an advertising campaign for American Express charge cards.
The Royal Photographic Society presented her with the Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship in 2009 for her significant contribution to the art of photography.
Personal Life & Legacy
She was in an intimate romantic relationship with writer and film maker Susan Sontag whom she met in 1989. Their relationship lasted till Sontag’s death in 2004.
She has three children, two of whom were born to a surrogate mother.
She was the last professional photographer to take John Lennon’s picture.
Her iconic picture of a pregnant Demi Moore had led to several spin-offs and parodies.