Any fan of Annie Leibovitz will want to read and cherish this book. The words and images will mean the most to young people dreaming of having a career in photography who wonder about how she got started.
Annie Leibovitz's photography has surrounded and informed us for so long that it has become part of the landscape, perspectives that we employ and too often take for granted. In Annie Leibovitz at Work, she takes us behind the camera a little to understand her motivations, her family, her career, her assignments, her purposes, and how those iconic images were constructed. I enjoyed the book very much but I found that it had two flaws that bothered me: She is a usually little too coy in holding back details that her disclosures make enticing. The page sizes are too small to properly display the images. The print quality is excellent, but you can only do so much when images intended for full magazine pages or portraits are displayed in 3 inch by 5 inch formats. A minor weakness is that some of the images she talks about aren't portrayed (presumably either a space or a permissions problem, but it is disappointing whenever it happens).
Here are some of the poignant stories in the book:
1. Taking the last portrait of John Lennon and Yoko Ono before John was murdered.
2. Photographing the Rolling Stones on tour while trying to keep a nervous independence from the parties and the crush of fans at the end of a concert.
3. John Cleese nearly suffocating to get the picture of pretending to be a bat hanging from a tree.
4. Capturing Al Sharpton at the beauty parlor.
5. Arnold Schwarzenegger changing his image through her photographs.
6. The story behind the pregnant cover of Demi Moore.
7. Cindy Sherman wanting to disappear in her portrait.
8. Capturing the war in Sarajevo.
9. The slaughter in Rwanda.
10. Posing OJ during his LA trial.
11. The arrogant photograph of the new White House team in town (December 2001).
12. Philip Johnson and his glass house.
13. Agnes Martin
14. Queen Elizabeth
Of the technical details, I was most interested in her descriptions of how she put together multiple shots to appear as one image.
Here are some of the many iconic images in the book:
Richard Nixon leaving the White House, Washington, D.C., 1974
Hunter S. Thompson and George McGovern, San Francisco, 1972
Tom Wolfe, Florida, 1972
Apollo 17, the last moon shot, Cape Kennedy, Florida, 1972
The Rolling Stones, Philadelphia, 1975
Keith Richards, Toronto, 1977
Mick Jagger, Chicago, 1975
Mick Jagger, Buffalo, New York, 1975
John Lennon, New York City, 1970
John Lennon and Yoko Ono, New York City, December 8, 1980
Tess Gallagher, Syracuse, New York, 1980
Robert Penn Warren, Fairfield, Connecticut, 1980
Bette Midler, New York City, 1979
Meryl Streep, New York City, 1981
The Blues Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi), Hollywood, 1979
Steve Martin, Beverly Hills, 1981
Whoopi Goldberg, Berkeley, California 1984
Keith Haring, New York City, 1986
John Cleese, London, 1980
Andrée Putnam, New York City, 1989
William Wegman and Fay Ray, New York City, 1988
Evander Holyfield, New York City, 1992
Willie Shoemaker and Wilt Chamberlain, Malibu, California, 1987
The Reverend Al Sharpton, PrimaDonna Beauty Care Center, Brooklyn, New York, 1988
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Malibu, California, 1988
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sun Valley, Idaho, 1997
Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rob Besserer, Cumberland Island, Georgia, 1990
Mark Morris, Cumberland Island, Georgia, 1990
Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, Paducah, Kentucky, 1988
Demi Moore, Culver City, California 1991
Cindy Sherman, New York City, 1992
Carl Lewis, Pearland, Texas, 1996
Soccer Field, Sarajevo, 1993
Blood on a mission-school wall, Rwanda, 1994
Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, Los Angeles, 1995
Patti Smith, New Orleans, 1978
Patti Smith, New York City, 1996
Puff Daddy and Kate Moss, Paris, 1999
Ben Stiller, Paris, 2001
Natalia Vodianova, Stephen Jones, and Christian Lacrois, Paris, 2003
Keira Knightley and Jeff Koons, Goshen, New York, 2005
Kirsten Dunst, Versailles, 2006
Cabinet Room, The White House, Washington, D.C. December 2001
Nicole Kidman, Charleston, East Sussex, England, 1997
Johnny Depp, New York City, 1994
Cate Blanchett, Los Angeles, 2004
Philip Johnson, Glass House, New Canaan, Connecticut, 2000
William S. Burroughs, Lawrence, Kansas, 1995
Agnes Martin, Taos, New Mexico, 1999
Marilyn Leibovitz, Clifton Point, New York, 1997
Sarah Cameron Leibovitz, New York City, 2002
Susan Sontag, Paris, 2003
Sharon Stone, Angelica Huston, and Diane Lane, Los Angeles, 2006
Kirsten Dunst, Bruce Willis, and James McAvoy, Los Angeles, 2006
Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, Los Angeles, 2006
Helen Mirren and Kate Winslet, New York City, 2006
Jack Nicholson, Los Angeles, 2006
Elizabeth II, Buckingham Palace, London, 2007 (4)
Hillary Clinton, New York City, 2003
Take a close look and enjoy!
Tina Brown, formerly of "Vanity Fair" supposedly once said that Annie Leibovitz was the Barbara Striesand of photography, inferring that the photographer was difficult to work with. I would sooner say that she is another Barbara, Barbara Walters of photography since after forty years in the business, she is now more famous than many of her subjects.
In her latest book Leibovitz writes extremely well about her life as a photographer from her first job with the magazine "Rolling Stone" as well as her work at "Vanity Fair" and other magazines. She takes a photograph or photographs for each chapter and then writes about that picture, how it came about, what difficulties were involved, anecdotal information, etc. For example, we learn that after she photographed the naked Keith Haring painted like one of his works (from the chapter entitled "Conceptual Pictures") that they actually went outside where she photographed Keith again on the streets of New York. Ms. Leibovitz covers Nixon's resignation, the O. J. Simpson trial, her time as a photographer for the Rolling Stones, Mikhail Baryshnikov's dance company and of course includes chapters on her two most famous images, the naked John Lennon embracing the clothed Yoko Ono and the very pregnant Demi Moore. My favorite chapter is about Leibovitz's photo session with the Queen of England where she puts to rest the rumor that the Queen stormed out of the shoot. Apparently the photographer found the Queen politely grumpy-- well, she is 80 and was wearing clothing that weighed 75 pounds-- but in the end quite delightful. What I found most disconcerting is that Leibovitz-- like practically everyone else-- has finally given in to digital photography. For example in three out of the four photographs of the Queen included here the photographer through the wonders of computers has superimposed Elizabeth on a different background. It is obviously a brave new world where even the professionals alter an image to meet their fancy.
Ms. Leibovitz's conclusions are shared by most photographers: that there is no such thing usually of a photographer's getting into the soul of a model, that she only has a brief slice of that person's life to work with; therefore, one would get the best, most revealing portrait of someone she knows very well. It is no coincidence that one of Leibovitz's favorite photographs is one of her mother. And smiles are almost always phony. The photographer says she has reluctantly come to the conclusion that the cliche that the camera loves certain people is true. "I realized when I studied pictures of Marilyn Monroe that it almost didn't matter who the photographer was. She took charge. It seemed like she was taking the picture." Leibovitz names Nicole Kidman, Catherine Deneuve and Johnny Depp as other examples of people the camera loves in the chapter entitled "Presence and Charisma."
The funniest photograph in this book has to be Al Sharpton sitting under a hairdryer with his hair in curlers at the PrimaDonna Beauty Care Center. One of the cleverest is that of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon photographed in drag in 1995 for "Vanity Fair's first hollywood issue as a tribute to their roles in "Some Like It Hot." My least favorite photograph-- from Leibovitz's first book I believe-- is that of the seventy-five-year-old writer Robert Penn Warren, whom she convinced to take his shirt off. "I wanted to see under his skin, to see his heart beating, his lungs pumping." Apparently, with the exception of Queen Elizabeth who would not venture outside for a portrait, Ms. Leibovitz is good at getting subjects to do whatever she asks. I do not believe, however, that disrobing an old man lets you see inside him.
I own several of Leibovitz's books of photography; this one certainly is one of my favorites. The photographer will almost convince you that a picture is not worth a thousand words. She writes in a free, conversational style that is most seductive and comes across as pretty much ego-free for one whose name and photographs are pretty much household words. She is also free with advice and information-- unlike some famous photographers- for young photographers as she discusses equipment and answers the ten most-asked questions.
I cannot imagine anyone who would not be fascinated by Leibovitz's latest book.
(I meant to give this book five stars but cannot correct my error after I preview my review.)