Annie Leibovitz

by Chris Duesing

Annie Leibovitz is one of the most famous portrait photographers our time. Ana-Lou “Annie” Leibovitz was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, on October. 2, 1949, one of six children. As her father was an Air Force Colonel, Leibovitz and her family moved frequently as she grew up.

Annie Leibovitz was a child with many talents. During high school, she played the guitar, wrote music and painted. Interestingly, she did not know much about photography until college, when she went with her mother on a trip to Japan. Leibovitz bought a camera to use on the vacation and she was hooked.

Annie Leibovitz and Rolling Stone

In 1970, Annie Leibovitz took some of her prints and showed them to Jann Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone magazine. After the meeting, Wenner started giving Leibovitz assignments. During the time, Leibovitz was still in college. She graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1971.

Annie Leibovitz became chief photographer for Rolling Stone when she was 23 years old. For the next 10 years, she traveled for the magazine, taking photographs of famous musicians such as John Lennon. One of her most famous photographs is of a naked Lennon curled around his fully clothed wife, Yoko Ono. She took the photo shortly before Lennon was murdered in 1980.

The rock band The Rolling Stones asked Annie Leibovitz to document their 1975 tour. The tour was a mixed blessing for Leibovitz. Her photographs of the group on tour added to her fame, but, during the trip, Leibovitz also started using cocaine. It would take her several years to quit taking drugs.

Annie Leibovitz and Vanity Fair

After leaving Rolling Stone, Annie Leibovitz joined the staff of Vanity Fair as chief photographer. Because the magazine didn’t focus solely on musicians and music groups, Leibovitz was able to add other types of artists to her portfolio, including dancers and writers.

Annie Leibovitz was the official photographer for the U.S. Olympic Team during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Her pictures were shown not only in Vanity Fair but Sports Illustrated as well.

Among the many honors that Annie Leibovitz has received are being named Photographer of the Year by the American Society of Magazine Photographers in 1984 and receiving the Infinity Award for Applied Photography from the International Center for Photography in 1990.

In addition, Leibovitz became a member of the Art Director’s Club in 1999. She has been named a living legend by the Library of Congress and was the first woman to exhibit at the National Portrait Museum in Washington D.C.

Annie Leibovitz was romantically linked to the well-known writer Susan Sontag, though the couple never openly declared themselves so. The two kept separate apartments but were together until the writer’s death in 2004. Leibovitz has three children, Sarah, born in 2001, (when Leibovitz was 52 years old), and Susan and Samuelle, born via a surrogate in 2005.

Annie Leibovitz: Her Style

Annie Leibovitz has progressed from taking pictures to taking portraits during her career, as she realized that she could get a better photograph if her subjects were relaxed or encouraged to do something fun or different. Leibovitz spends time researching her subjects and, when she can, spends time with them before shooting so that when it comes time to take their portraits, she has a real sense of her subjects’ personalities.

Some of Annie Leibovitz’s most famous portraits are her most controversial. The above-mentioned portrait of John Lennon and Yoko Ono raised some brows, as Lennon wasn’t wearing clothes. The portrait, however, demonstrated Lennon’s vulnerability and Ono’s strong personality. This picture was voted as being the best magazine cover in the last 40 years by the American Society of Magazine Editors in 2005.

Another famous portrait and 1991 Vanity Fair cover that Annie Leibovitz took was of a nude Demi Moore when Moore was seven months pregnant. Her editor at the time, Tina Brown, at first refused to let the picture run. The American Society of Magazine Editors voted the Demi Moore cover as being the second best magazine cover in 40 years.

Annie Leibovitz, with her ability to individualize her portraits, continues to produce distinctive, and sometimes provocative, photographs.

Further Reading
Chris Duesing
Chris Duesing

I am a photographer, writer, entrepreneur, and programmer living in the great city of Chicago. I love to solve problems with technology and share what I have learned along the way.