Stars and families in Annie Leibovitz’s viewfinder

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Dec 29, 2013 - 19:21
  • Updated : Dec 29, 2013 - 19:21
Annie Leibovitz’s “Susan Sontag, Quai des Grands Augustins, Paris” (2002).  (Annie Leibovitz from A Photographer’s Life 1990―2005)

Photographer Annie Leibovitz is one of the rare photographers who can capture an ordinary moment in the middle of a dramatic setting, or the other way around.

The photograph of the naked John Lennon cuddling with his wife Yoko Ono, taken three hours before he was assassinated in 1980, was printed on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and became an instant sensation because of its unusual composition and striking message.

Thirty-three years later, Leibovitz has became the queen of portrait photography, having worked with some of the most influential people in the world, including the Obama family, Leonardo DiCaprio, Hillary Clinton, Nicole Kidman, Angelina Jolie and the Queen of England.

Anna Wintour, the notorious, admired editor-in-chief of Vogue U.S., once said that Leibovitz is a fantastic photographer and that if she asked Nicole Kidman to be on the cover of Vogue Nicole might decline, but if she told her that Annie Leibovitz would take her pictures, she would rush to the Vogue office.

For the American photographer, the celebrities gladly take the risk of leaving their comfort zones: DiCaprio had a goose tied around his neck while Whoopie Goldberg had to dunk herself in a bathtub full of milk and Demi Moore posed nude while nine months pregnant, starting a trend of appreciation for the beauty of the pregnant body.

A total of 196 works taken between 1990 and 2005 by the 64-year-old photographer are now on display at the Hangaram Art Museum at Seoul Arts Center in southern Seoul.

This was the most critical period for Leibovitz. In 2001 she gave birth to a daughter with her same-sex lover, the international women’s rights scholar Susan Sontag. In 2004, Sontag died of complications of myelodysplastic syndrome which had evolved into acute myelogenous leukemia. Leibovitz had another twin through a surrogate in 2005.

The peacefulness of love and the pain of watching her partner’s struggle against illness is well-reflected in the photos. Sontag, who was a women’s rights and anti-war advocate, is pictured in Paris with esprit. The black-and-white portrait accentuates her eyes and lips, her sorrowful expression overshadowing the romantic atmosphere of the “city of love.”

Another picture, where Leibovitz poses with her children, is a perfect 21st century adaption of the Renaissance-era family portrait. In an interview with a Korean magazine, the photographer admitted that she carries a small camera with her all the time and that the children are tired of being the subjects of her photography. But in one picture the angelic children pose with the Earth-Motherly Leibovitz as she wears a laid-back smile. 

Annie Leibovitz at home with her children, Samuelle, Sarah and Susan (and their dog, Lola), in Rhinebeck, New York, 2012 (Photograph by Nick Rogers, © Annie Leibovitz)

Leibovitz planned to visit Seoul for her exhibition, which started on Dec. 7, but canceled at the last minute. Through her interview with the Korean press, she expressed her interest in putting President Park Geun-hye in front of her viewfinder. “It will be nice, right?” said Leibovitz, who has already photographed Carla Bruni, Hillary Clinton, George Bush and the Obama family.

“Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life 1990-2005” runs until March 4. For more information visit www.annieleibovitz.co.kr.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)