Annie Leibovitz: The Woman Who Took Some of the Most Iconic Photographs of the 20th Century

Grace Piney

Discover the fascinating story and career of the Photographer of the Stars, who captured emblematic portraits of Bob Dylan, Meryl Streep, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and Queen Elizabeth among others.

Annie Leibovitz deserves credit for some of the most iconic photographs of the second half of the 20th century. Considered one of the best paid in the market, she is known as “the photographer of the stars”, and has photographed many of the most memorable advertising campaigns we’ve seen to date. Her work is also displayed in the world’s most important museums and galleries.

She was born into a military family in Connecticut in 1949. Her father was an Air Force lieutenant, and his job took them around the world. Annie’s interest in capturing memories of her trips led her to develop an appreciation and talent for photography that lasts until today.

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Annie Leibovitz.

She could have been, without a doubt, just another good travel photographer, but at 19, fresh out of the San Francisco Art Institute, she landed a job as staff photographer for a new publication titled Rolling Stone where she photographed the great musicians of her generation. In 1973, she was named chief photographer of the iconic magazine.

Her work has been featured in other emblematic publications such as Life, Esquire, Vogue, Paris Match, Elle, and El País. Her lens has captured the likeness of John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Meryl Streep, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, the Queen of England, Richard Nixon, Nelson Mandela, Brad Pitt, Johnny Deep with Kate Moss, Quentin Tarantino, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Holly Hunter, Keith Richards, Patti Smith, Michael Jackson, David Beckham, Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway, Lady Gaga, Scarlett Johansson, and Rihanna. She has undoubtedly captured the best celebrity photographs of our times. But Leibovitz is also the author of the last shots of some of the most legendary figures of the last century, namely John Lennon and Richard Nixon.

She sets herself apart with a characteristic lack of interest in just photographing pretty faces in comfortable poses, and for her fearless attitude in the face of controversy. Her photograph of writer Allen Ginsberg smoking pot, labeled her a rebel. She would go on to document the effervescence and turmoil of the 1970s and 80s.

Some considered her nude portraits of the 1990’s controversial, but in actuality the photographer showed great sensibility and candor in those images. In 1991, Vanity Fair published a cover photo of a naked and very pregnant Demi Moore, and in 1993 Sylvester Stallone became one of Leibovitz’s emblems when he posed naked as Rodin’s The Thinker.

Leibovitz also captured the essence of human drama in two special series. The first, a 1993 set of portraits of war victims from the Sarajevo conflict, served her as a path to spirituality. The second, documenting the last days of her sentimental companion, writer Susan Sontag (who also received the Prince of Asturias Award), who died of cancer in 2004, was a long good bye that prepared her to face her own mortality.

A great selection of her works can be found in A Photographer’s Life, 1990-2005 (Ed. Lunweg). This monograph was the catalog of a 2009 exhibit in Madrid. During the presentation, Leibovitz said her favorite piece was a portrait she made of her mother in 1997 for the book Woman: “It is an image that really raises the bar. I would like to take photographs like that every day, but it is difficult; it is like capturing the soul.”

Annie Leibovitz is a rebel, a woman of passion and conviction who has received countless awards, including the Prince of Asturias Prize in Spain, but Leibovitz said she is not recognized as a journalist. In fact, in the aforementioned book she affirms, “I’m not a journalist. A journalist doesn’t take sides, and I don’t want to go through life like that. I have a more powerful voice as a photographer if I express a point of view.”  ■

PHOTO: © Courtesy Prince of Asturias Foundation.

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