A photographer’s life
Published: June 22, 2011 (Issue # 1662)
Sitting in the apartments of Tsar Alexander I in the State Hermitage Museum, Annie Leibovitz is a generous presence in an otherwise daunting enfilade of staterooms. At 62, she is possibly the world’s most famous photographer, and during the past four decades has trained her lens on the great and the good — and on a fair share of monsters too. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that few photographers can lay claim to quite as much psychic real estate as Leibovitz. From the Rolling Stones to the Clintons, she has photographed just about anyone who is anybody, creating some of the 20th century’s most memorable portraits in the process.
The survey exhibition now on view at the Hermitage brings together a selection of Leibovitz’s photography from between 1990 and 2005: 15 years that saw important changes in her personal life. “It was a book before it was a show, and that’s probably the reason I felt comfortable with the imagery going into it,” she said Tuesday in an interview with The St. Petersburg Times ahead of the exhibition’s opening.
“Some of the images makes it seem like, ‘are we trespassing?’ But in the shelter of the book covers, it felt protected. So it was interesting to translate it into a show.”
Now out in the world, and hung against the pastel walls of the Winter Palace, it becomes clear that this multifaceted body of work is held together by the sheer force of her personality, her distinctive voice, a relentless pursuit of the telling moment and a deep, almost melancholic, understanding of the transience of life.
“On some level I like the book more,” she says. “But on another level it’s exciting to see it come to life. And the show changes wherever it’s mounted.”
The personal work is printed far smaller than the assignment works, she explains, “because it was designed to be intimate.”
The Connecticut-born, New York-based artist began her journey in the crucible of late 1960s San Francisco and has been at the epicenter of the entertainment industry ever since. Her uniquely American vision has made her one of the most important chroniclers of what fascinates the nation, and has earned her a place among its most eloquent raconteurs.
Leibovitz started out at Rolling Stone magazine in 1970, where she created portraits of a generation that still resonate today. In the ’80s she moved to Vanity Fair, going on to define that decade and the next with her take on everything from the O. J. Simpson murder trial to a portrait of a naked and very pregnant Demi Moore. Most recently, her photographs for Vogue have taken fashion photography from the merely glamorous to the downright operatic.
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