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Annie Leibovitz at Work Hardcover – November 18, 2008
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“The first thing I did with my very first camera was climb Mt. Fuji. Climbing Mt. Fuji is a lesson in determination and moderation. It would be fair to ask if I took the moderation part to heart. But it certainly was a lesson in respecting your camera. If I was going to live with this thing, I was going to have to think about what that meant. There were not going to be any pictures without it."
Annie Leibovitz describes how her pictures were made, starting with Richard Nixon's resignation, a story she covered with Hunter S. Thompson, and ending with Barack Obama's campaign. In between are a Rolling Stones Tour, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, The Blues Brothers, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Keith Haring, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Patti Smith, George W. Bush, William S. Burroughs, Kate Moss and Queen Elizabeth. The most celebrated photographer of our time discusses portraiture, reportage, fashion photography, lighting, and digital cameras.Amazon Exclusive Essay: Annie Leibovitz on Photography
In 1977, when Jann Wenner, the editor of Rolling Stone, asked me to prepare a fifty-page portfolio of my pictures for the tenth anniversary issue of the magazine, I decided not to simply make a selection of photographs that had been published. I looked at everything I had done since I started working. It was a revelation. For one thing, I had no idea that I had accumulated so many photographs. You lose track of them when you’re working every day. And you see the work in a different way when you look at it from the distance of time. You get a sense of where you are going. You start to see a life.
I had the opportunity to edit my work most thoroughly when I prepared two retrospective books, Annie Leibovitz: 1970–1990 and A Photographer’s Life: 1990–2005. It was thrilling to see that first book laid out chronologically. To see the pictures historically. The second book, A Photographer’s Life, was assembled immediately after the death of Susan Sontag and my father. Editing the book took me through the grieving process.
The books are pure. They are mine. The magazines I work for don’t belong to me. It’s the editor’s magazine, and the editor has every right to use the material the way he or she wants to. It isn’t just that art directors and editors at magazines make selections that I wouldn’t necessarily make. Which they sometimes do. Or that they run pictures too small. Or that they put so much type on the pictures that you can’t see them anymore. Magazines have quite specific needs. It’s a collaboration only so far, which is true of almost all assignment work.
When I began working on my new book, I thought it would be a pamphlet of maybe forty pages or so. I intended to take ten of my photographs and dissect them. They didn’t have to be my most famous pictures, just pictures that I cared about. But as I began going through the material I realized that I might as well be more ambitious. I started to think that I would try to answer every single question anyone has ever asked about how my work is done. To defuse the mystery, and the misconceptions. To explain that it’s nothing more than work. And learning how to see.
So my forty-page pamphlet became a 240-page book with over a hundred photographs in it. It is written for someone like the person I was at the beginning of my career, when I was in art school. A young me. I didn’t know which road I would take. Whether it would be a commercial road, a magazine road, an artistic road, a journalistic road. It’s written for that person. Someone who is interested in photography but isn’t sure how they want to use it.
The book is more emotional than I had imagined it would be. But, most importantly, it is my edit. No one is going to care about, or understand, your work the way you do, and if you are going to explain it you have to be able to present it the way you want to. That’s what a book can do better than any other medium.
See Annie Leibovitz's 15 favorite photography books.
(Photo credit Paul Gilmore)
"Undoubtedly one of the world's best photographers. Annie Leibovitz at Work is a must have collection" Aesthetica --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
I was right, but it's not what I expected.
A better title would be "Annie Leibovitz: On Work."
This is not a coffee table book, and it's not mainly photographs. For each image there's at least a full page of editorial, maybe two or three pages, as the author describes how each shot came about and her thoughts about the experience. The book is smaller than you might think--a little shorter and narrower than a Time magazine--and the photos smaller than you'd expect. Few are larger than a postcard.
There's no dust jacket, just a paper band that wraps around the bottom.
I was expecting the book to include technical shot-by-shot details, with background images showing reflectors, stylists and such. No such luck. Leibovitz does, however, include an insightful essay about the equipment she has used over the years, as well as an FAQ list. "What advice do you have for a photographer that's just starting out?" "Stay close to home." (She goes on to elaborate.)
The stories, though, are interesting, much like those in A Camera, Two Kids, and a Camel. Because Leibovitz has such a clean writing style, and her subjects are often celebrities, the book is a pleasant read, and every bit the unique addition to my library I was hoping for. Now that I've spent some time with it, I actually prefer that the book isn't bigger; it's much easier to sit back and spend time with it this way.
Getting back to the images, some of them really stayed with me. Besides the famous shot of Demi Moore that became a cover of Vanity Fair, there's another one, straight on, with the top of the naked actress fully exposed. A shot of Arnold Schwarzenegger on a white stallion looks like something from Herbert List. A simple portrait of Patti Smith has the revealing facial details and expression like the best work of Richard Avedon. Then there's a 1980s photo of Rev. Al Sharpton getting his hair done at a beauty salon. Made me laugh out loud.
I know many of these shots have been published before, but it is interesting to be able to flip from one to the other.
Here's the chapter list:
1. Nixon's Resignation
2. The Rolling Stones
3. John and Yoko
4. Conceptual Pictures
6. Al Sharpton
7. Arnold Schwarzenegger
9. Demi Moore
11. Peak Performance
13. O.J. Simpson
15. Patti Smith
19. Presence and Charisma
20. Being There
21. My Mother
25. The Queen
26. The Process
27. The Road West
29. Ten Most-Asked Questions
30. Publishing History
It was a thoroughly entertaining quick read. I have returned to some of the photographs and her accompanying narration some of which stuck with me for a long while after the initial read.
However, if you are expecting a book that will technically explain each of her photographs or give you a better understanding of how a camera functions, this is not the book for you. If you want to hear stories from the heart of someone who has spent her life working in the field of photography, I recommend this wonderful book.
The heart of the book is photographs surrounded by her prose. One illustration is when she was designated the tour photographer for the Rolling Stoners' 1975 tour (I saw the group twice in Buffalo, NY that year--once indoors and once outdoors; what a trip!), although she also shows photos from 1977 (Catch Keith Richards lying down or with his son Marlon). She shows us several photos to give a sense of the tour. One of my favorites is Mick Jagger jumping into the air (see page 32). But it is her observations that make this an especially interesting part of the book, as she provides context for the photos.
Another interesting pair of photographs look at the singer Patti Smith. One photo was taken in 1978 and took place in a very hot room, with the singer sweating profusely (page 123); the other was taken about two decades later after the death of Smith's husband. Both photos capture something telling about the singer, just as the prose adds its own part to telling the story.
There are photos of Leibovitz' family, telling us something about the photographer as well as her family. On page 171, there are just four lines of her words to go with a photo of Susan Sontag, but those few lines are, for me, powerful. Another fascinating part of the book is several views of Queen Elizabeth II. The photos seem to provider a sense of this monarch that go beyond just a representation. And the prose in which the photos are embedded also add to the story. In a sense, as with other sections of this book, the prose and photos have a kind of synergistic relationship (obviously, I like the book by saying this!). The section called "The Road West" has two evocative images from Monument Valley that are most affecting. Other segments of interest: John and Yoko, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and Hollywood.
This is a well done volume, wedding some exquisite photographs with the artist's reflections. The two go together well, making this a pretty compelling work.