Bridging the gap between commercial and fine art photography is a challenging task, but military brat and domestic TCK Annie Leibovitz does it with ease.
Growing Up Military
A Connecticut native, Anna-Lou Leibovitz (Annie) was born in 1949 and spent most of her childhood on the road with her parents and five siblings traveling from Air Force base to Air Force base, never staying in one place for too long.
In the 2007 documentary Annie Leibovitz: Life Through A Lens, directed by Annie’s sister Barbara Leibovitz, Annie’s life is explored in the context of her work today — but her passion for photography stemmed from her life experience living in a car and seeing the world from a ready-made lens, the car’s window frame.
In the documentary, Annie’s mother Marilyn shares how she promoted the arts to her children as much as she could, so it didn’t surprise her when Annie first picked up a camera. It was around the time the family was set to move to the Philippines, and her father Samuel was sent to serve in the Vietnam War. Annie recalls not wanting to go and painted a picture of her father storming home to drag her to their new home. The war itself also created a rift in the family because most of them were against it. Upon their arrival in the Philippines, Annie bought a camera, took pictures on and around the base, and used the provided darkroom in order to develop her first photos.
As long as I can move, as long as I can keep moving, I’m happy”Annie Leibovitz talking about her career goals in Annie Leibovitz: Life Through A Lens
Fast forward to college, and Annie was back stateside, attending the San Francisco Art Institute. Initially, she pursued a career in painting but changed to photography in her second year. In Annie’s classes, they focused on the works of Robert Frank and Cartier-Bresson who represented the same style of 35mm photography in the U.S and Europe. This influence is important because similar to her nomadic childhood, their works were portable due to their use of small cameras. Annie would find such mobility comforting.
She got her start with Rolling Stone — the perfect fit, as it allowed her to travel. When photographing her subjects, she would spend two or three days getting to know them, a unique process Annie says her upbringing played a role in developing. “In order to get the best possible pictures, one had to become a part of what was going on,” she explained in Annie Leibovitz: Life Through A Lens. “No one pays you any mind, and you can take the pictures you wanna take.”
Annie was so good at assimilating into the culture of her subjects and what she lacked in technical training and expertise early on, she made up for in her adaptability. Annie’s process allows her to capture the spirit of her subjects within fine art and commercial contexts, often blurring the line between the two. During her time with Rolling Stone, she went on tour with The Rolling Stones, and through her cover art, was noticed by professionals from Vanity Fair and Vogue. She now shoots for each publication.
A celebrity among celebrities, many famous people are dying to get a photo from Annie Leibovitz. Annie has photographed the likes of Olympic athletes, as well as stars, such as Whoopie Goldberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Keith Richards, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Barack Obama, Mick Jagger, Jessye Norman, Sir Sean Connery, and even Queen Elizabeth II.
She has also published an assortment of books chronicling her work, including Photographs, American Music, A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005, and Annie Leibovitz At Work, just to name a few.
What Annie’s Up to Now
Besides continuing her work with publications and celebrities, Leibovitz also completed a feminist installation entitled Women: New Portraits, in which she photographed a variety of women in order to challenge gender role stereotypes surrounding femininity. This project, a collaboration with Gloria Steinem, ran from 2016-2017 and was a continuation of her 1999 photo series, Women. In 2019, Leibovitz received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Amherst College.
Her work has humanized celebrities, world leaders, and royalty. Still, Annie feels her highest successes has been in raising her three children; family is the most important thing in her life.