"At Work" with Annie

A conversation with photographer Annie Leibovitz

A woman walks onto the stage of Cambridge’s First Parish Church on Monday, November 24. “A reminder,” he says. “There is no photography during the talk.” So began world-renowned photographer’s Annie Leibovitz’s reading of her latest book, “Annie Leibovitz at Work,” sponsored by the Harvard Book Store. The audience chuckles.



“The point of the book is to take the glamour out of [photography],” says Leibovitz. Leibovitz hopes to show that photography is, after all, just work. “Annie Leibovitz at Work” documents many of the iconic photos Leibovitz has taken throughout her career—from Queen Elizabeth II to Mick Jagger, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to O.J. Simpson, its pages are an interesting and varied assortment of famous, and infamous, characters of this generation.



Leibovitz, recently declared a living legend by the Library of Congress, is a frequent contributor of exciting, and controversial, images to magazines such as “Rolling Stone,” “Vogue,” and “Vanity Fair.” During her talk, she discussed everything from the June cover of Vanity Fair, where precocious Disney Channel star Miley Cyrus posed with her back exposed, to a recent encounter with actor Daniel Radcliffe of the Harry Potter franchise and Broadway’s Equus. Radcliffe, unlike Cyrus, was prepared to bare a little more skin.



“He’d prepped himself,” Leibovitz says, explaining that Radcliffe was ready to be shot in the nude. Leibovitz had other ideas.



After answering some questions at large, Leibovitz sat down for an one-on-one interview with FM. Leibovitz, dressed in all black with her signature black frames, leans back in her chair.



Fifteen Minutes (FM): Having been declared a legend by Library of Congress, who else do you consider to be a legend?



Annie Leibovitz (AL): Oh my goodness. I don’t know if I really think like that because the world is so big and life is big and so many people came before me and us. One of the things that’s nice in the book is that I talk about a lot of different photographers who influenced me and so there were all these legendary photographers. I like to talk about the traditions that I learned from Robert Frank and Cartier-Bresson who were legendary to me. I’m in this wonderful place where I get to meet some of the best people at what they do.



FM: How would you say working in magazines has influenced your photography?



AL: I think it’s a really great landscape to develop any work. Especially in the early days of “Rolling Stone,” it was such a raw, young canvas and no one there ever told me what to do, so we sort of learned and grew up together. I don’t think I would still be working for magazines if I didn’t believe you could break through and do things that were really wonderful. But, that being said, magazines are working with other people, and there’s an editor and an art director. If you want to do pure work, you should do books. That’s where the pure work is.



FM: How did you select the photos that you were featuring in “Annie Leibovitz at Work?”



AL: I originally thought I was going to take ten photographs and dissect them very carefully and talk about the making of them. I just felt that I wanted to cover more ground and I decided to answer every question I thought anyone could ever have about the work of today so that involved bringing in the more famous pictures like John and Yoko and Demi Moore. The book started off with taking the most talked about pictures that I had done. Then I started to add pictures that were stepping stones in learning how to take pictures, so that if you were a young photographer you could know what I went through to get where I got to. I talked about the different photographs that came at the different stages in my work and taught me what I was doing.



FM: What do you think makes a photograph important to the world?



AL: Like any art, or work, one hopes to reflect back who we are and what we’re doing and tell something about ourselves. If it gives some insight——you can’t always get to the heart of the matter——but if you can show some insight into the people that are so talented and so wonderful, that we can admire, then we can learn something from that, I think it’s great that it can play back into our lives. Because, really, this is us, this is photographing us.