Yes, Annie hits the big 6-5 today, and WOW, has she packed a LOT into those years. Her list of accomplishments is HUGE. It would be hard to name anyone of consequence in the last 40 years that she HASN’T photographed. (FYI, she's been designated a Living Legend by the Library of Congress.) I have worked at several magazines that Annie has shot for. I’ve known many who have worked with her and I myself returned to Vanity Fair to design the first Hollywood Issue with her and Art Director, David Harris. Her reputation precedes her, but as my old VF colleague, Yolanda Cuomo would always say, “No excuses.” Either the work is good, or it isn’t”… you can’t stand next to it and explain why it isn’t. Annie never made any excuses. She is a task master and the stories of her iron-handed, on-set brutishness is legendary. (I have a few choice ones but I’m NOT telling them here, on her birthday!) As is often said, if she were a man, her behavior would just be chalked up to being “tough”. That she is. She started out as staff photographer for the brand-new Rolling Stone magazine. In 1973, publisher Jann Wenner named her chief photographer, a job she held for a decade, shooting every major personality of the 70s, defining the look of Rolling Stone. She also served as the concert-tour photographer for Rolling Stones, Tour of the Americas ’75. Her favorite photo from the tour was this photo of Mick Jagger in an elevator.
On December 8, 1980, Leibovitz had a cover shoot with John Lennon. She had initially tried to get the picture with just Lennon alone, which is what Rolling Stone wanted, but Lennon insisted that both he and Yoko Ono be on the cover. Leibovitz then tried to re-create something like the kissing scene from their Double Fantasy album cover. She asked John to take off all his clothes and curl up next to Yoko on the floor. Leibovitz recalls;
“What is interesting is she said she’d take her top off and I said, ‘Leave everything on’ — not really preconceiving the picture at all. Then he curled up next to her and it was very, very strong. You couldn’t help but feel that he was cold and he looked like he was clinging on to her. I think it was amazing to look at the first Polaroid and they were both very excited. John said, ‘You’ve captured our relationship exactly. Promise me it’ll be on the cover.’ I looked him in the eye and we shook on it.”
Annie was the last person to photograph Lennon and also one of the last to see him alive. He was shot and killed just five hours later. (The photograph was later re-created in 2009 with Sean Lennon, posing with his girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl, with the roles reversed.
There are WAY too many other incredible pictures to even begin to list them here, but another famous story came out of Annie’s photo session with THE Queen. In 2007, The BBC was filming Annie during a portrait shoot of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace (where Annie can be seen in pants and tennis shoes) A trailer for the film showed the Queen reacting angrily to Leibovitz’s suggestion that she remove her tiara for a “less formal” look, then a scene of the Queen walking down a corridor, telling an aide “I’m not changing anything. I’ve had enough dressing like this, thank you very much.” The BBC later apologized and admitted that the sequence of events had been misrepresented and the Queen was actually walking to the next scene. Nevertheless, those photos are incredible and it’s still amazing to Brits that she asked her to remove her crown, but to Annie, as important as the subject was, it’s ALL about the result, not the process.
Tashchen’s just come out with a HUGE monograph of her work –and I mean HUGE. Limited to 10,000 signed and numbered copies, it’s available as Collector’s Edition (No. 1,001–10,000, $2500) and also as Art Edition (No. 1–1,000, $5000) with a signed fine art print, plus the full set of all four dust jackets; Whoopi Goldberg, Keith Haring, David Byrne & Patti Smith, with a Marc Newson designed book stand.
Here’s to many, MANY more years of uncompromised pictures, Annie.