Analysis : Annie Leibovitz

The first Thursday of every month, our photo director is sharing an analysis of a famous photographer.

This month, meet : Annie Leibovitz


In the United States of the 1970s, progressive values that originated in the late 60s, such as the political consciousness of society and the acquisition of political rights and economic freedoms for women, continued to acquire relevance.

Culturally, the 70s in the United States is the result of the emergence of a huge number of new musical directions, such as funk, soul, R&B, hip-hop, pop, hard rock, soft rock and disco. Separately, one can note the development of rock-and-roll during this period of time, since most of its gold fund was recorded precisely in the 70s by such musicians and bands as David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd. This period can without exaggeration be called the golden Era of vinyl, since records became widely available to the mass audience.

In 1970, Annie Leibovitz got a job as a staff photographer for the new Rolling Stone magazine (covering all significant events in the world of music), but already in 1973, the editor-in-chief of the magazine, impressed by her work, appointed her to the position of the chief photographer of the publication.


December 8, 1980 Leibovitz makes one of his most famous works. She is filming John Lennon for Rolling Stone magazine. Although Leibovitz originally planned to shoot him alone, she changed her plans and photographed him with his wife in an unconventional pose, creating an iconic image.

The Rolling Stone magazine editor wanted to crop the photo to frame Yoko Ono, but Annie insisted that both of her subjects be on the cover of the magazine. The next day, this photo of Annie Leibovitz became one of the most famous photographs of the Rolling Stone magazine.

Five hours after Leibovitz photographed Lennon, he was shot by Mark Chapmanham.


Her photograph (shown in the previous slide) of John Lennon, naked, curled up with his fully clothed wife is one
of her most iconic images. Her attempt to recreate the kissing scene from the Double Fantasy album cover resulted in this striking shot that became her trademark.

By the 1980s, Leibovitz’s reputation was firmly established, and celebrities and fellow artists alike jumped at the opportunity to be photographed with her. In Keith Haring’s shoot, she captured graffiti and a nude pop artist squatting on a coffee table with a surprised expression on his face. Literally becoming one with his work, his entire body is painted; masking it against the background of the fresco he painted on the furniture and walls of the room. The image demonstrates Leibovitz’s ability to playfully convey the personalities of his charges. Haring’s courage and unity with his work became literal. Andy Grundberg, historian and photography critic, explains how Leibovitz “exaggerates the distinctive characteristics of the public image of celebrities to a humorous and demeaning connotation.” Kate Haring also marks the beginning of Leibovitz’s transition to more conceptual and staged photography that will define her style. “It was the beginning of understanding the potential of conceptual
photography. I tried to refer to their poetry in their portrait, and suddenly it just clicked. I realized that a staged portrait can have a story, ”explained Leibovitz.

In 1984, when the photo was taken, Whoopi was 29 years old, and she was a rising, but already quite bright star of Broadway (her breakthrough in cinema – in Steven Spielberg’s drama “Flowers in the Purple Fields” – will take
place only a year later). Vanity Fair decided to do the material about the young actress, and Annie Leibovitz, who
at that time had been a staff photographer for the magazine for a year, commissioned the filming. As Leibovitz herself later admitted, the idea to shoot Whoopi in a milk bath came to her after she saw Goldberg’s comedy performance in a nightclub. In a small reprise, she played a black girl who tries to rub herself with bleach to give her skin a lighter shade. So the actress ridiculed “whitewashing” – a racist tradition in which only people with lighter skin color could count on certain social privileges.

Demi Moore’s shot in late pregnancy, naked, for the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991. The photo has garnered critical
acclaim as well as controversy over its plot and is considered one of her most famous celebrity photographs.

For the 2006 Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair, Leibovitz wanted to photograph three of Hollywood’s most
promising starlets naked together. When Rachel McAdams reportedly pulled out of the shoot at the last minute,
acclaimed gay fashion designer Tom Ford took her place – adding a man to the frame gave the image a sexually
charged flair and pulled attention away from the Academy Awards itself.

In May 2007, Leibovitz was criticized for asking Queen Elizabeth II to remove her crown during filming. Critics
were divided over the results (intended to commemorate Elizabeth II’s trip to the United States that spring); some
called it a postmodern take on the interpretation of monarch Helen Mirren in the 2006 film The Queen, while others felt the results were appropriately regal and elegant.

April 28, 2008 Annie Leibovitz captures provocative photos of 15-year-old Miley Cyrus for the June issue of Vanity Fair. “I’m sorry my portrait of Miley was misinterpreted,” she said in a statement released by Vanity Fair. “Miley and I watched fashion photos together, and we discussed the shot in that context before we shot it. The photo is a simple classic portrait taken with very little makeup and I think it is very beautiful. ” Cyrus commented on the photo, saying that she was “embarrassed” by the photos and apologized to her fans.


On the creative path of Leibovitz, two periods can be clearly distinguished.

  1. Rolling Stone Magazine 70-80s Leibovitz shoots live and music coverage, as well as lifestyle portraits and magazine covers.
  2. Ten years later, Annie Leibovitz resigns as Principal Photographer for Rolling Stone magazine and becomes a freelance portrait photographer for entertainment magazines such as Vanity Fair and Vogue.

Her characters are usually Hollywood celebrities, but she has also photographed writers, athletes and ordinary women. As a celebrated photographer, Leibovitz has moved away from the conventional goal of providing great looks to actors and actresses, thus creating her own direction. She brought the characters in her photo sessions into her own style and took portraits that were both unexpected and unforgettable.


GQ UK Were there any heroes? Not so much linear influences, but just heroes in photography, people who influenced you?
A.L. I’m a huge, huge fan of photography. I have a small photography collection. As soon as I started to make some money I bought my very first photograph: an Henri Cartier-Bresson. Then I bought a Robert Frank. When I went to the Art Institute, the photography that was being taught was very personal reportage. It was Robert Frank, Cartier-Bresson. Robert Frank was considered the father of 35mm photography in America; Cartier-Bresson was the father of 35mm photography in Europe. They were the first photographers who went out with a very small camera and took pictures.


Annie Leibovitz is known as a celebrated portrait photographer and she has become as famous as the
people she photographs. Her photographs helped popularize the photographic style of storybook, which playfully mimics reality rather than directly reflecting it – representation through fantasy and artful exaggeration.


With a selective gaze that can switch between pop stars, politicians and royalty, Annie Leibovitz is equally critical
and glorified of celebrity culture, creating some of the most controversial and popular images in pop culture of
the past 50 years.


A master of capturing popular culture icons in dramatic and innovative ways, she paved the way for others in
contemporary commercial photography, such as Mario Testino and Jill Furmanovski, who are also considered
legitimate works of art.

Leibovitz continues to work and expand her creativity in both artistic and popular locations, and her work maintains the high standards that aspiring photographers aspire to.


Annie Leibovitz is an unyielding and provocative classic of world pop culture, who moved from documentary and
commercial filming to Art, capable of making commercial filming an object of art.

  1. Textures on the background and around the model (background canvas, wood, old walls with cracks)
  2. Subtle combination of artificial and natural light
  3. Soft light as in painting (Rembrandt)
  4. Posing (dancing, painting, classical art)
  5. Narration in the frame (the frame answers the questions – who is the hero, what he feels, what happened or will happen next with the hero)
  6. The resulting frames are more like paintings than photographs (the effect is created due to the combination of the above aspects – texture, posing, light)
  7. Multi-faceted deep shots with a feeling of independent lighting (most likely achieved in post-processing using compositing)
  8. In the process of shooting, a team is used (work with a fan, decorations, hair stylists and make-up)

Director of Photography
Daniyar Sadykov

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