In honor of Annie Leibovitz's A Photographer's Life Exhibition at the Corcoran, we are re-posting our story from last year.
The good folks over at Politics and Prose Bookstore in northwest DC (http://www.politics-prose.com/) had us packed in like sweltering sardines on October 16, 2006. The standing room only crowd gathered for one of the store’s most exciting author events ever. You never knew so many people could fit into such a cramped space without the fire department rushing in, but none of us cared very much. We were all there (some of us up to three hours early) to stake out our own personal square footage just to see, hear, and be in the same room as American born celebrity photographer and portrait artist Annie Leibovitz. A popular culturist and a modernist, Ms. Leibovitz (born Anna-Lou), was honored in 1991 with a major exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Her work has received major acclaim and criticism centering around her concentration on celebrities, a practice she's continued since her early success with Rolling Stone Magazine. Ms. Leibovitz read for about a half an hour from her new, highly praised retrospective entitled, “A Photographer’s Life.” (Available through Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/0375505091/ref=s9_asin_title_1/002-0156771-2736873.) The retrospective is a collection of work from 1990 – 2005. It is inspired in part, due to the death of Annie’s long time companion, Susan Sontag, and the death of Leibovitz’s father a mere few weeks following. Both black and white and color images span personality novelties of the rich and famous to more personal and intimate relational works on the author’s family. Of particular note is a photograph of Ms. Leibovitz’s mother in her late seventies, one the photographer loves because of its authenticity and its absence of pretension. Ms. Leibovitz appeared unpretentiously to be in a mixed state of joy over her young children (she gave birth to her first daughter at the age of 51 and was 8 ½ months pregnant during September 11, 2001), while at the same time also fighting the clutches of resigned and unrelenting grieving. She bares her soul and describes her experience as being not primarily that of a photographer, but rather one as an observer of life. Most interesting were her perspectives on the effect of engaging a subject in conversation prior to taking a photo. Leibovitz says no matter what you say to a person, it changes their face, changes their emotion, and changes the expression in the eyes. This is one of the reasons she most prefers unstaged and unposed photography. She’s searching for who the person is – what’s their statement. When asked by aspiring photographers what the key to a successful life in photography is, she quips, “Stay close to home.” So it seems the retrospective may be asking – who, where and what is home – does the definition of home change as people die – is home within – and can you find your home through Leibovitz’s expression and years of work?