Annie Leibowitz: Playfully serious

Saw the Annie Leibowitz documentaty (Life Through a Lens) on Saturday. What an amazing portrait photographer. Lots to think about. What struck me, amongst many things, was the down-to-earth way she interacts with people she photographs. Unpretentious, professional, authentic, driven, an ability to engage with her subjects in a way that draws out the essence of them (as problematic as that expression is) and takes it, in her own words, to another level. The sheer volume of work (over at least 40 years); the quintessential rock-and-roll photographer of her generation.

I was thinking about what the psychoanalyst Emmanuel Ghent talks about as surrender: an active conscious effort to let things happen. Not forcing yourself on the world but working with things. A slow openness to life and other people. Perhaps that’s also what impressed me – her ability with people. She doesn’t come across as narcissistic or full of herself. She’s very talented but she just interacts with people in a way which allows them to be themselves. They relax with her and so she is able to take extraordinary pictures of them.

But there’s also a conceptualisation that takes place. What is it that this person’s work represents or where they are right now? Bette Midler in a bed of roses, Whoopee Goldberg in a bath of milk, Sting in the desert. They’re very short stories but very powerful. And then the lavish Vanity Fair covers (extravagant sets and costumes, marching bands, opulence etc.)
Very inspirational. Makes me want to go out and take more photographs (and sift through my own photographs and put them in albums, put them up on my office wall).

She’s got this almost deadpan way of talking which is relaxed and serious at the same time, which seems to match her style of photography which is playful and serious simultaneously. Those “fierce” looks of the dancers (with one dancer having a playful smile). I love that she didn’t make them all deadpan. And the photograph of Miley Cyrus is pretty tame – I really can’t see what the fuss was about.

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One Response to Annie Leibowitz: Playfully serious

  1. Litlove says:

    I wish I could have seen the documentary. I love her photos and would have liked to learn more about her. Very insightful post, Pete.

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