Main Photographic Subject: Celebrities
Annie Leibovitz is a rather an enigma for a public figure. While much is known about her works, her private life is much less well-known. details about her early life are few and far between with many sources needed to find small snippets of information. Overall, Annie Leibovitz is a woman whose life has been mostly defined by her work.
Annie Leibovitz was born Anna-Lou Leibovitz on October 2, 1949.
She was one of 6 children of Sam and Marilyn Leibovitz. Sam Leibovitz was a Lieutenant in the Air Force and Marilyn Leibovitz was a dance teacher. The family lived in Westbury, Connecticut at the time Annie was born. The family moved often due to Sam's military career. It was during a posting to the Philippines during the time of the Vietnam War that Annie first became involved with photography as a hobby thanks to the base's darkroom. However, when Annie enrolled in college at the San Francisco Art Institute in the late 1960's her plan was to study painting, not photography. During her time at the San Francisco Art Institute Annie indulged her previous hobby and took a class on photography. After that class, her direction changed to photography. In the summer after Annie's sophomore year she left college and traveled with her mother to Japan. It was in Japan where Annie purchased a camera.
Upon returning to the US Annie enrolled in photography night classes at San Francisco Art Institute although Annie told ARTnews in 1992 that she was taught nothing about lighting or color photography - only black and white film. In 1970 Annie contacted the founding editor of Rolling Stone, Jann Wenner, about a job.
Wenner was impressed by the portfolio Annie showed her and assigned her to photograph John Lennon. The resulting photograph became the cover for the January 12, 1971 issue. By 1973 Annie had become Rolling Stone's chief photographer.
Like many photographers with other publications, when Rolling Stone began printing in color Annie realized her photography education had not prepared her for the new technology and she taught herself how do deal with color photography. These self-taught ideas possibly led to her signature bold colors and surprising posing of subjects in her photography.
In 1975 Annie decided to go on world tour with the Rolling Stones as their official photographer. Wenner, at Rolling Stone magazine, tried unsuccessfully to convince Annie not to make the trip as she was concerned the environment would lead Annie into drug addiction. Wenner was right and Annie went to rehab.
Annie photographed John Lennon again on December 8, 1980, only hours before Lennon was murdered. Annie intended to photograph both Lennon and Ono nude but Ono refused to pose any further undressed than topless. Rather than have a partially clothed Ono in the image Annie told her to go ahead and remain fully clothed.
The resulting image of a nude Lennon curled around Ono is one widely recognized by people around the world.
The 1980's were arguably the high point of Annie's career. Her first book, Annie Lebovitz: Photographs, was published in 1983 with several more books following that decade. Annie also joined Vanity Fair in 1983. During the 1980's Annie gained much more public recognition during the American Express "Membership" campaign for which Annie created the celebrity member portraits. That campaign also earned Annie a Clio Award in 1987. Annie also met Susan Sontag in 1989 on a photo shoot and the two later became lovers, although they never shared a home.
During the 1990's Sontag influenced Annie to go to Sarajevo and her work from that trip is drastically different from her celebrity portrait work.
Important personal milestones took place in Annie's life in the last few years. In 2001 she gave birth to her daughter Sarah. In 2004 her long-time partner Susan Sontag died of cancer. Then in 2005, a surrogate mother gave birth to Annie's twins, Susan and Samuelle. For much of 2009, Annie has battled with Art Capital Group over late payment of a $24 million dollar loan. In mid-September 2009 the lawsuit was dropped as part of a debt restructuring settlement and Art Capital Group extended the due date of the loan.
Trivia: At one point Annie briefly moved to Israel where she lived on a kibbutz.
"The Observer" article "How I shot my sister Annie..."
San Francisco Art Institute
PBS American Masters Series - Annie Leibovitz
Biography.com Annie Leibovitz article
CNN article "Lawsuit against Annie Leibovitz dropped"