Annie Leibovitz: The Atlanta Interview
Instead of the celebrities she is renowned for, Leibovitz focuses this time on subjects simply because they mean something to her, like Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts and Henry Thorough’s house at Walden Pond.
Here the highlights…
Two loves greatly influenced Annie Leibovit’z work: her mother (a dance instructor) and writer/essayist Susan Sontag (her ‘lover’) who died of cancer in 2004.
It is obvious that Leibovitz truly loved Sontag, as she chokes up every time she mentions her name. In fact, there are more photos of Sontag in the exhibition than there are of celebrities that Leibovitz is best known for shooting.
* Nicole Kidman, New York, 2003. Courtesy of ‘Vogue’
Although Annie Leibovitz’s work mostly reflects her life, she clearly doesn’t like to take photos of people with smiles. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any of her subjects in this current exhibition smiling.
I just think smiles are kind of… fake.”
‘You have to understand, my family was the kind that always smiled for pictures. I just thought it was kind of… fake. In the portrait I took of my mother, she’s not smiling.
She thought she looked old and didn’t like the photo. But at one of my exhibits one time, all of these people were gathered around asking for her autograph, so she kind of liked that.’
* Pondering photos of lover Susan Sontag undergoing chemotherapy.
‘I’ve recently started looking for a cemetery, which is sort of like looking for a good apartment in New York City. People are afraid to talk about death.
So before my dad died, I made sure to talk to him about it. But I promise there’s more to this exhibition than just death,’ she says with a laugh.
I’ve started looking for a cemetery.
People are afraid to talk about death.”
* The White House Official Portrait by Annie Leibovitz
‘The great thing about this photo is if you love George Bush, you love this photo. And if you hate Bush, you hate this photo. I only had 45 minutes to take it, which was a LONG time.’
I don’t think of myself as a photographer.”
When asked why she thinks she’s become such an icon, she says, ‘A lot of hard work. It’s all about the work. Also, I don’t think of myself as a photographer. I think of myself as an artist who uses photography.’
Leibovitz has been under contract as a landscape photographer with ‘Conde Nast Traveler’ since 1993. Other contracts include ‘Vanity Fair,’ ‘Rolling Stone’ and ‘Vogue.’
Annie Leibovitz is no stranger to Atlanta. In fact, we actually attended her first exhibition at the High Museum in 1994. Two years later, Leibovitz photographed athletes at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.
She also went to Cumberland Island, Georgia to photograph Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rob Besserer.
Cumberland Island is the longest
I’ve stayed anywhere with a subject.”
‘Cumberland Island is an amazing place. I ended up staying with Mikhail and Rob for three weeks, which is the longest I’ve stayed anywhere with a subject, except for the Rolling Stones tour which I couldn’t get off of for eight years
I asked if I could just watch them dance on the beach, which is what this photo is about.’
* Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rob Besserer in Cumberland Island, Georgia.
And what about that famous Vanity Fair cover of Demi Moore nude and pregnant in 1994?
‘I had worked with Demi a lot. I did her wedding pictures when she married Bruce Williis. I told her then I was interested in photographing a pregnant woman, which I had never done before.
I said, ‘we should do some nudes just for you.”
I shot some close-ups of Demi for the magazine, and I said, ‘you know, we should do some nudes just for you.’
* Leibovit’z portrait of nude and pregnant Demi Moore with Bruce Willis.
‘Demi called me when she was pregnant with her first child. Bruce was working on a film in Kentucky, so I stopped there on the way back to New York from Los Angeles.
I didn’t quite understand the impact
that Vanity Fair cover would have on people.”
Three years later, when Demi was pregnant and had a movie coming out, ‘Vanity Fair’ asked me to take a picture of her for the cover. As I was shooting I said, ‘You know, this would be a great cover.’
The magazine decided to go with it – I didn’t quite understand the impact it would have on people.’
‘I photographed and Al Pacino standing next to each other in my studio, but I had to cut them into two separate photos and edit them together because they couldn’t stand each other.’
* Annie Leibovitz’s photo of Robert De Niro.
This time around, she’s got Chris Rock donning ‘whiteface,’ and as Alice in Wonderland. Leibovitz also photographed Queen Elizabeth II. She is the first American honored with taking the Queen’s official portrait.
[The Queen] was a little like
photographing your 80-year old aunt.”
‘They gave me 30 minutes to photograph her. She said she remembered me asking if I could photograph her years ago, and she felt bad for turning me down.
The photos were good, but there were more like a document. I did a lot of research; they sent me books of her clothes and jewelry that I could choose from.
I wanted to include everything, so we did the shoot at Buckingham Palace. She was a little feisty because she had to wear the whole outfit and everything. It was a bit like photographing your 80 year old aunt. But she was great.
At the end, I told her I had made a bit of a mistake and needed her to come back so I could do something else, and she did.’
* Brad Pitt, Las Vegas, 1994. Courtesy of ‘Vanity Fair’
‘I got rid of my studio. It was becoming a burden, so now prefer to shoot in the great outdoors. I’m also using a lot of digital, which I love. If I want to make it look like film, I can, and it gives me the leeway with color.
For instance, I used to not be able to shoot a subject in front of a green trree, because green looks black on film. But now I can do that. I first started using digital when I shot , because I wanted it to look like ‘now.’ It looks sort of like television.’
Preserve your work. It doesn’t have to
be published, but put it into something.”
What advice does Leibovitz have for budding photographers?
‘The thing I tell artists now is to make sure you preserve your work. Put it into a book. It doesn’t have to be published, but put it into something.’
* Annie Leibovitz in front of one of her landscapes.
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