Last week I had some amazing luck and ended up with a ticket to the sold out Annie Leibovitz lecture at the C|O Berlin where her retrospective is up, “A Photographer’s Life.” The space was beautiful and walking past the giant line felt pretty great, turns out Germans love her; I saw a “Willkommen Annie” cover story on at least 3 big newspapers the day she arrived.
I know a lot of photographers don’t feel this way. My room mate, for one, who was her first assistant for many years back in the 90’s. Fortunately for me he didn’t really feel like going (apparently she can be more than rude on set) and thus I ended up with his ticket. A lot of other photographers who have never actually worked with her, like me, kind of cringe about her because she’s become one of those names. You know, like Ansel Adams or (more full on cringe here) Anne Geddes. The type people who don’t know much about Photography mention whilst in awkward getting to know you conversations with a photographer. I know I’ve had to surpress an eye roll on more than one occasion when people mention those names, it’s happened to the best of us.
All that said when Leibovitz walked in, I stood on my tippy toes to see her and later on found myself taking as many photos as I could while she was nearby. She’s a household name for a reason and although I still don’t get Anne Geddes I had a similar experience with Ansel Adams in which I went to a retrospective show and was floored by the beauty of his prints. Sometimes there’s reason for the hype.
Also, I just finished reading the late Susan Sontag’s journals “Reborn” and since Leibovitz and Sontag were partners I was interested to hear her talk about her. When she did the audience went completely silent, more so as we watched this very powerful seemingly guarded woman grow a bit emotional as she referred to ‘loosing Susan.’
“when we met she knew I could be better, I could’ve been a jerk or the work could’ve gotten better. I never really could be the person she wanted me to be. She had a high set of values. I never felt like I could totally please her”
Apparently the “Women” book was Sontags idea, interesting fact. I found the photos in the show of Sontag to be really beautiful. I think it’s always telling to see the portraits the portrait photographer takes of their loved ones. Leibovitz said that was the motivation for the show, after Sontag died she was looking through photographs of her believing in all their years together she’d failed to get any really great ones.
She went on to talk about the photograph of her Mother, from the Women book and how it has become so much more to her over the years. Just before taking it her Mother had asked her not to make her look old and after when she showed her parents neither one liked it.
“We always had to smile for photos when I was younger, in the best and worst of times. And my Mother always smiled in photos. But, I began to distrust the smile, in my protraits you rarely see people smiling….later at the show someone came up to me and said ‘she looks as if she loves you in that picture'”
It was nice to hear some of the anecdotes behind the photos I’ve referenced since I was 16. And yes I have to admit I was a bit star struck; it’s hard not to be when you walk through the rooms of people she’s photographed. I mean just to have met all those people is a pretty amazing feat. I know I know, you can roll your eyes if you must.
“as a photographer, my achilles heal: I like people to look good.”