As one of the most high-profile celebrity photographers in the world, Annie Leibovitz has shot some of the most iconic celebrity images of the last 30 years – in the shape of world leaders and moguls, movie stars and rock stars.
Before her name became interlocked with images of celebrity, wealth and power, Leibovitz was just starting out at the cutting edge of counterculture in the late 60s. Born in Connecticut, she studied photography at the San Francisco Art Institute, where, at 19, she took a photograph of Allen Ginsberg smoking a joint on an anti-Vietnam march. A friend urged her to submit it to Rolling Stone and it became the cover of the June 1970 issue. By the age of 24, she was Rolling Stone’s chief photographer. At 25, she was on Nixon’s helicopter as he fled the White House. A year later, she toured America with the Rolling Stones, and in 1980 she took that famous shot of Lennon, which was voted the best cover of the last 40 years by the American Society of Magazine Editors.
Annie Leibovitz: Photographs, the photographer’s first book, was published in 1983 and after ten years at Rolling Stone and 142 covers later, Leibovitz joined the Staff at Vanity Fair as its first contributing photographer. At Vanity Fair she became known for her wildly lit, staged, and provocative portraits of celebrities. Most famous among them are Whoopi Goldberg submerged in a bath of milk and Demi Moore naked and holding her pregnant belly. Since then Leibovitz has photographed celebrities ranging from Brad Pitt to Mikhail Baryshnikov. She’s shot Ellen DeGeneres, the George W. Bush cabinet, Michael Moore, Madeleine Albright, and Bill Clinton. She’s shot Scarlett Johannson and Keira Knightley nude, with Tom Ford in a suit; Nicole Kidman in ball gown and spotlights; and, recently, the world’s long-awaited first glimpse of Caitlyn Jenner. Her portraits have appeared in Vogue, The New York Times Magazine, and The New Yorker, and in ad campaigns for American Express, the Gap, and the Milk Board.
Most recently, Leibovitz has veered away from celebrities with her most recent book, A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005. The book still includes celebrity portraits, but also features personal photographs from Leibovitz’s life: her parents, siblings, children, nieces and nephews, and Susan Sontag, Leibovitz’s partner for 15 years who passed away in 2014 from cancer. Leibovitz, who has called the collection “a memoir in photographs,” was spurred to assemble it by the deaths of Sontag and her father, only weeks apart. The book even includes photos of Leibovitz herself, like the one that shows her nude and eight months pregnant, à la Demi Moore. That picture was taken in 2001, shortly before Leibovitz gave birth to daughter Sarah. Daughters Susan and Samuelle, named in honor of Susan and Leibovitz’s father, were born to a surrogate in 2005.
Leibovitz’s other books include: Photographs: Annie Leibovitz 1970–1990(1991), Olympic Portraits (1996), Women(1999), American Music (2003), Annie Leibovitz at Work (2008), Pilgrimage(2011), and Annie Leibovitz, a limited-edition, over-sized volume published by Taschen in 2014.
Exhibitions of her photographs have appeared at museums and galleries all over the world, including the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.; the International Center of Photography in New York; the Brooklyn Museum; the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris; the National Portrait Gallery in London; and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Leibovitz has been designated a Living Legend by the Library of Congress and is the recipient of many other honors, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Center of Photography, the Centenary Medal of the Royal Photographic Society in London, and the Wexner Prize. She has been decorated a Commandeur in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.
Her first museum show, Photographs: Annie Leibovitz 1970-1990, took place in 1991 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and toured internationally for six years. At the time she was only the second living portraitist — and the only woman — to be featured in an exhibition by the institution.