06.12.2015 - Estelle Marandon




Demi Moore, pregnant and stark naked on the cover of Vanity Fair, or Whoopi Goldberg, diving into a bathtub full of milk – during a career spanning over 40 years, images from American photographer Annie Leibovitz have entered the global collective memory. The 65 year-old is best known for elaborately staged portraits of Hollywood stars, rock icons, politicians and other celebrities. In her photographs, Annie Leibovitz plays with the picture of her sitters and uses heavy post-processing techniques to make them appear generally bigger, more beautiful and more imposing than they really are. This is probably the reason why people trust her and why virtually anyone who's anyone has posed in front of her camera – from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Cate Blanchett.


Before becoming the world's most famous portrait photographer, Annie Leibovitz wanted to be a music teacher and it was only later that she went to study painting and photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. She soon put painting on the side to devote herself to photography, her real passion. "It was more direct, it was quicker," she said in an interview. As a child, she was already used to viewing the world through a frame. "It was the rear window of our car," she says. Because Leibovitz's father was a soldier, and kept being posted to new places. The parents would pack their six children into the car and drive off.


In the early 70s she finally started to work as a staff photographer at Rolling Stone magazine, going on tour with numerous bands. "You had to have a pretty good sense of humour and, of course, learn to drink and take drugs," she says, recalling that time. And she had good teachers – particularly among the Stones, with whom she went on tour. After ten years of excesses, she entered a clinic to treat her drug problem and, in the mid-80s, moved to Vanity Fair, where she developed her very particular and glamorous style.


Leibovitz is said to be feared by those working under her on account of her fierce outbursts of anger and her perfectionism. The photographer works with a huge team of assistants, lighting technicians and stylists to carry off her extremely lavish productions, all of which regularly drive up costs. Her apparently poor abilities with money made the headlines in 2009. Leibovitz had taken out a loan of 24 million dollars, which she was unable to repay. It would have bankrupted her, causing her to lose the rights to all her images, if an investor had not rushed to her aid.

Annie Leibovitz had a 16-year relationship with the journalist and writer Susan Sontag, who died tragically in 2004. Aged 51, Leibovitz gave birth to a daughter, Sarah, who was conceived thanks to a sperm donor. Three and a half years later, she had twins Susan and Samuelle by a surrogate mother. She does what it takes to get her way. Annie Leibovitz has a reputation for being a perfectionist. Her budget for her work is legendary. Leibovitz spends several weeks researching her subjects and finding the right location before a photo shoot. She conducts a number of lighting and dress rehearsals ahead of a shoot. Whatever she is doing is perfect.

Short Facts


Her photographs are characterised by the obvious aesthetic of the models. Her pictures often feature details relating to the subject's personality, and which reflect their public image. 


The photographer employs as many people as an entire company, just to capture a single photo.


Her portrait of John Lennon, naked, wrapped around his beloved Yoko Ono, is now legendary. Annie Leibovitz shot the photo on the 8 of December 1980, just a few hours before the Beatles member was shot dead in the street by a confused fan. 


1990 Infinity Award for Applied Photography
2003 Lucie Award
2006 French Order of Arts and Letters
2009 Infinity Awards Lifetime Achievement Award
2009 winner of the Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal
2013 Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities


1949 – Connecticut

On the 2nd of October 1949, Anna-Lou Leibovitz was born in Waterbury, Connecticut. She was born into a Jewish family and is the third of six children.

1967 – Studies

Leibovitz studied painting and photography at the Francisco Art Institute, in order to become an art teacher.

1970 – Rolling Stone

She started working as a staff photographer at Rolling Stone magazine, and was appointed the magazine's chief photographer in 1973, a post she held until 1981.

1975 – On Tour

She accompanied the Rolling Stones as concert-tour photographer.

1983 – Vanity Fair

Since 1983, Annie Leibovitz has been a photographer for the magazine Vanity Fair.

1988 – Susan

Annie Leibovitz met the publicist Susan Sontag.

2001 – Late Motherhood

At the age of 51 she gave birth to their first daughter Sarah.

2005 – Twins

Three and a half years later, she had twins Susan and Samuelle by a surrogate mother.

2009 – Debt

She was sued for breach of contract by Art Capital, which had granted her a loan of $24 million. Annie Leibovitz barely escaped bankruptcy.




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