Annie Leibovitz

portrait photographer
Born: Westport, Connecticut

“Sometimes I enjoy just photographing the surface because I think it can be as revealing as going to the heart of the matter.”

– Annie Leibovitz
In an interview by David Van Biema, Life April 1994

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American photographer who is renowned for her revealing, eye-catching portraits of celebrities.

Leibovitz enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute in 1967, intending to become a painter. After being introduced to photography in a night class, she quickly switched her focus to that medium. In 1970, while still a student, she was given her first commercial assignment for Rolling Stone magazine. Leibovitz became the publication’s chief photographer in 1973, creating images of the major personalities of contemporary rock music. In 1975 she documented the Rolling Stones’ six-month concert tour, during which she produced several widely reproduced photographs of lead singer Mick Jagger. Perhaps her most famous work from this period is a nude portrait of John Lennon wrapped fetuslike around his wife, Yoko Ono.

In 1983 Leibovitz produced a 60-print show that toured Europe and the United States. The accompanying book, Annie Leibovitz: Photographs, was a best-seller. That same year she moved to Vanity Fair magazine, which broadened her pool of subjects to include film stars, athletes, and political figures, and in 1986 she moved into advertising photography, working for such clients as Honda, American Express, and the Gap. (The American Express ad campaign that used her photos won a Clio Award, recognizing advertising excellence worldwide, in 1987.) Her style throughout these projects is characterized by carefully staged settings and her trademark use of vivid primary colours. Leibovitz typically spends two days observing her subjects’ daily lives and views her photographic sessions as a collaboration.

In 1991 Leibovitz had her first museum exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., one of only two such exhibits that the institution had devoted to a living photographer. A companion book, Photographs: Annie Leibovitz 1970–1990, was published in 1991. She also earned much praise for her portraits of American Olympians taken for an exhibit at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia, which were later published in the book Olympic Portraits (1996). In 1999 she published a collection of photographs entitled Women, with an essay by Susan Sontag.