Monday, March 3

Portrait of An Artist: Annie Leibovitz.

And a hush came over the room. Yep, that's what happened as Annie entered the Legion of Honor's press preview gathering. Annie Leibovitz has a quiet presence, but you certainly feel it. As I posted last week, I was invited to the press tour of Annie Leibovitz's new exhibit Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life, 1990–2005 at San Francisco's Legion of Honor, and as promised, here's a report of my extraordinary day. Once again, thank you so much to the Legion of Honor for this invitation and amazing opportunity.

San Francisco's Legion of Honor.

Surrounded by a throng of reporters.

Personal photographs; Annie chats with the crowd.
She says "Life is more interesting than having to make it up."

Lucky journalists, photojournalists and bloggers like myself, were given a walking tour with Annie Leibovitz around the exhibit and were treated to her candid, funny, sometimes serious and a little bit self-effacing dialogue about some of her most celebrated photographs. Annie Leibovitz has been documenting the faces of those who shape our lives over the last forty years, and captures those faces with unique perception and infinite love for the art of photography. Ms. Leibovitz was visibly moved to be back in San Francisco, where she actually began her career, as a student at San Francisco's Art Institute, not as a photographer, but as a painter. Perhaps her studies as a painter are what gives her eye such an interesting sense of balance and beautiful composition. While studying at the Art Institute, Annie also studied photography at night.

The White Stripes, 2003.

Moments captured for Vanity Fair & Vogue.

In 1970, graduated and quite broke, Annie was approached by Rolling Stone to shoot for their magazine, and 142 covers and ten years later, her talents as a photographer were as prolific as they were profound. From there she began shooting commercial advertising for the Gap, where she said she was very frightened by the idea of shooting with nothing but a seamless background and her subject. Doesn't it make y'all feel a bit better to know that she could ever feel any sense of fear at the task that lay before her? Annie most obviously overcame her fears, and in 1983 joined the staff of Vanity Fair magazine, and in 1998 began shooting extensively for Vogue.

Speaking about her women with AIDS portraits; and the artist wears tennis shoes!

Annie's varied subjects. Some she admires, so she does not.

A common trait of Annie's when in contemplation -
running her hands through her hair; and Susan Sontag.

When asked about photographers she admired, Annie said she very much admired the photos by Alfred Stieglitz of Georgia O'Keefe, and the honest artistry of Diane Arbus. She said her own photos are often 'gushy' because she wants too much to like people. She said, "put me in a room with Nixon, and I'll think, well, he's a nice guy". She said she wanted to be able to shoot like Arbus, who shared with us photographs of people we didn't want to see, but she is too nice.

Two dynasties.

Annie; and her portrait of Eudora Welty, 1997.

Annie with her favorite portrait of her mother -
the highlights in her mother's hair look to me like a crown;
Standing before her beautiful landscapes.

When asked which of her portraits was her favorite, Annie said it was that of her mother, unsmiling. Apparently her mum doesn't like to be photographed without a toothy grin on her face, but Annie insisted this one (above) be part of the collection, to both her mother and father's disapproval. Her mum was won over after attending the exhibit opening and being asked to sign her image for many admiring fans. Annie looks so proud, happy and relaxed here.

Candid snapshots of Annie and family.

Annie says her new, and deeply personal book, Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life, 1990–2005, came from a place of grief, after the loss of her father, and her long time companion, Susan Sontag, who died in 2004 after a long battle with cancer. She said she is very proud of the book, but also had some misgivings about publishing such very personal photographs. The beautiful, and really heavy book (it's over 470 pages and weighs almost nine pounds!) contains not only her celebrated photographs, but personal snapshots of her life with Susan Sontag, her three children, family and friends. It's worth the weight. “I don’t have two lives,” Annie Leibovitz writes in the introduction to this collection. “This is one life, and the personal pictures and the assignment work are all part of it.”

Annie's family.

Working out the layout for the book on Annie's barn walls, as reconstructed for the exhibit.

Annie's beautiful landscapes.


leighwells said...

wow! gotta go see it!

Kristi said...

I saw this show when it was in Georgia. It was was amazing.

Kelly said...

i would give a kidney to see this!!!

UmberDove said...

Simply amazing! I am just so envious in the best possible way, but so glad to see your photos of the show.

Jaime said...

wow you are so lucky!

Amanda Conley said...

I love how the photographes are posted on the wall in the top picture. It looks like there is some depth behind them. How are they hanging?

sfgirlbybay said...

It was an amazing day and I am very lucky!

Amanda - those were so cool and they were in the museum shop. They were postcards mounted with foam core, I think and pasted to the wall. It looked great!

Coveiter said...

i have seen the book and it is beautiful! on my wish list for sure. As a photog myself she is someone I'd definitely like to meet. Great post!

vanou said...

Annie Leibovitz is my favorite photographer.
Thank you for sharing your day with us!

Anonymous said...

The is so wonderful, you are very fortunate to live in an area that offers such great opportunities to view her work. Thanks you for sharing. A

melissa deakin said...

thanks so much for sharing these images and telling the story.
what an amazing experience.
i have this book and it is one of my all-time favorites.

Anonymous said...

I was lucky to see her show at the Corcoran in January.

It was the last weekend of the show so it was packed/sold out that day. I found the family photos the most touching. But the photo that affected me the most was the one with the bloody footprints. I couldn't stop staring at it.


Anonymous said...

Annie's image of John & Yoko, taken on the day he was murdered & which graced the cover of Rolling Stone remains one of my all time favorite photos. Sounds like you had a most amazing day.

Peace & Love,


Hello from Canada! I did a mention this past Sunday about your Annie experience. Thank you so much for such a wonderful report - it is my favorite blog post to date! You rock.

jeen-marie said...

Hey there. Happy March!
I was able to see the exhibit here in DC as well. I am glad to know that the art work moved you as much as it did to me and my husband. We're members at the Corcoran and were able to go through twice. It is mesmerizing how photographs are evidence of time standing still. I was also deeply disturbed by the bloody foot prints on the wall.
I hope you were able to speak with her. What an awesome experience for you. Cheers- Jeen-marie

sfgirlbybay said...
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Kimberly said...

I have really enjoyed your Annie blogs. Her work is amazing. I can't imagine actually seeing her in person.

Thanks for sharing her with us. :)

Nathalie said...

I was just reading about her over the weekend, and i was really intrigued with her story and inspired by her work so much that i too thought of buying a proper camera..these are the story that make us and change us by inspiring us, thanks Victoria for sharing this :)

perfect bound said...

Thank you! I love Annie's work as well as Diane Arbus (who I did catch at The Met, was it?) I was also very, very lucky to see Susan Sontag speak several years ago. What a collection of extraordinary woman. What a life!

Katie said...

Wow!!! What a wonderful experience to see this exhibition and be able to meet Annie Leibovitz and hear her talk about her art. Sooooooo awesome!

Esti said...

I like the way you have summed it all up. Thanks for sharing the chance and the feeling of meeting A.L. Her photographies are perfect and round. And your post gives humanity to the photographer.

sfgirlbybay said...

Glag y'all enjoyed the post. It was a grand day! And yes, Jeen Marie, I did speak with her for just a moment afterwards - I introduced myself and asked her to sign my book, and we spoke for a sec about a photo project I just produced for Condé Nast with another Vanity Fair photographer she knows. She was really nice and very down to earth.

Christie said...

I loved your blog about Annie and can't wait to make it over there to see it myself. These still photos made me curious as to how she works, and then I was watching the 20/20 special last night on the queen, and they showed when Annie whent to photograph her last year before the queen came to visit the US. It was really interesting, especially since the Queen wasn't being the most cooperative at first, but Annie was composed and did an amazing job.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your personal pics of her personal pics. I love her candid stuff of the Stones and that period too.

Shows like this make me want to move to SF or London or somewhere with richer culture.


Anonymous said...