Annie Leibovitz

Born: Waterbury, U.S., 1949

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Annie Leibovitz was born Anna-Lou Leibovitz in October 1949 in Waterbury, Connecticut.

In 1967, she enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute to study painting before shifting to photography. She lived on an Israeli kibbutz for some while before returning to the USA in 1970 where she began working for the then up-coming magazine Rolling Stone. Impressed with Leibovitz’s portfolio, Editor Jann Wenner offered her a job as a staff photographer. Within two years, she was promoted to chief photographer which she stayed for the next 10 years. Her position with the magazine gave her the opportunity to travel with the Rolling Stones on their 1975 international tour.

Whilst working with Rolling Stone Magazine, Leibovitz imagined photo-shoots with bright colours and started asking her models to do surprising poses, developing what would become her trademark techniques. Wenner credited her with making many Rolling Stone covers collector items, most notably an issue that featured a nude John Lennon and his fully clothed wife Yoko Ono – a picture taken on December 8 1980, just a few hours before Lennon’s death.

She left Rolling Stone Magazine in 1983 and began working for Vanity Fair instead. To date, a number of the magazine’s covers featured Leibovitz portraits of celebrities, with some being sometimes considered as very controversial.

In the late 1980s Leibovitz started to work on a number of high-profile advertising campaigns. Notably for the American Express Membership campaign for which she shot Elmore Leonard, Tom Selleck and Pavarotti, amongst others, and for which she was awarded a 1987 Clio Award.

In 1991 her collection of over 200 color and black-and-white photographs were shown to the public in an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. Later that year, a book was published to accompany the show titled “Photographs: Annie Leibovitz 1970-1990”.

Six years later she was chosen as the official photographer of the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Her black and white portraits of American athletes featuring Carl Lewisand and Michael Johnson amongst others were published in the book “Olympic Portraits”.

“I sometimes find the surface interesting. To say that the mark of a good portrait is whether you get them or get the soul – I don’t think this is possible all of the time.”

In 1999 she published the book “Women” representing a wide range of women from Supreme Court Justices to Vegas Showgirls, to coal miners and farmers.

In 2005, the Brooklyn Museum hosted a significant retrospective of Annie Leibovitz’s work, based on her book “Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life, 1990–2005.” The exhibition showcased both her professional celebrity photographs and personal images of her family, children, and partner Susan Sontag. It later travelled to various locations, including Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Berlin.

Apart from her retrospectives, Leibovitz worked on diverse projects, such as collaborating with The Walt Disney Company for their “Year of a Million Dreams” campaign in 2007, photographing celebrities in different roles for Disney Parks and Resorts.

In 2015, she took a unique approach to the Pirelli calendar by focusing on admirable women rather than sexual themes. Her version featured prominent figures like Amy Schumer, Serena Williams, and Patti Smith.

In 2023, Leibovitz was commissioned by IKEA to create a series of 25 portraits exploring the theme of “life at home.”

While she gained recognition for her work, Leibovitz faced controversies throughout her career. One notable incident involved a photoshoot with Queen Elizabeth II in 2007, where the BBC misrepresented the events, leading to an apology and a shake-up in ethics training. Another controversial shoot featured LeBron James and Gisele Bündchen on the cover of Vogue, drawing criticism for its depiction that some felt played on racial stereotypes. Additionally, a photoshoot with Miley Cyrus for Vanity Fair caused public backlash, leading to apologies from both Cyrus and Leibovitz.

Annie Leibovitz Biography

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Written by Marine Lazarus

Marine Lazarus, an Anglo-French photographer who moved to UK 3 years ago to study journalism at Brunel University in London. Marine is responsible for our Photographers Biographies section.

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