Speaking before a crowd of around 600 people gathered at the First Parish Church, Annie Leibovitz—the world renowned photographer known for her iconic image of a naked John Lennon clinging to Yoko Ono—revealed the secret behind her photographs: “There’s no magic. It’s just work.”
The talk, hosted by the Harvard Book Store, was a part of a tour promoting her recent book “Annie Leibovitz at Work,” a compilation of more than 100 images, from her rock ’n’ roll days following Mick Jagger to her recent coverage of Barack Obama on his campaign trail, accompanied by personal anecdotes.
“I was trying to find my voice with this book,” she said. “And the more funny it got, the better it felt.”
Leibovitz’s career began as an art student in San Francisco. In 1970, she began working for Rolling Stone Magazine and became its chief photographer soon after. Since then she has gone on to take photographs for Vogue, Vanity Fair, and advertising campaigns for American Express, Gap, and Louis Vuitton.
According to Leibovitz, her recent book is unique in its inclusion of her advertising and fashion work.
“It’s the first time I’m really coming clean,” said Leibovitz, whose past compilations have been restricted to staged portraits and historical documentation.
Behind her in the church was a photograph of Ben Stiller surrounded by models wearing deer antlers that appeared this year in a Men’s Vogue fashion spread. “I have trouble figuring out what’s real and what’s not real anymore,” she said, to laughter from the audience.
Among the crowd were fans ranging from middle school students to long-time fans who credit Leibovitz with their passion for photography.
“I’ve loved her since I was 10,” said Lynn Gonsalves, a photographer from Hull, Mass., who stood first in line with a camera slung around her neck before the doors opened. “I was always really inspired by everything she did. She’s the reason I’m a photographer now.”
At the end of the event, Gonsalves said she couldn’t have been more pleased.
“After leaving a talk like this, I feel inspired to go out and shoot more myself,” she said.
During the question-and-answer session following Leibovitz’s slide presentation of her book, Thomas Burns, a freshman at Northeastern University, asked Leibovitz how she felt about the recent controversy regarding her Vanity Fair shoot in which then-15-year-old pop star Miley Cyrus appeared partially nude.
“You don’t go out to shoot a controversial picture,” Leibovitz said. “I don’t ever think like that.”
After the presentation, Heather Gain, the event coordinator at the Harvard Book Store, said she felt the event was “wonderful and unusual,” in that it “brought the photographer with her words.”
“Leibovitz provides a narrative,” she said. “We not only see these iconic images we’re all familiar with, but we get a great insight into Mrs. Leibovitz herself.”