Understanding Annie Leibovitz!

17th Jan 2018
The following is a personal interpretation, opinion and conclusion.

I repeatedly get an advert on youtube and I was shocked by it. The masterclass advert for a “session” with Annie Leibovitz begins with her saying: 

“there’s this idea that in portraiture, it’s the photographer’s job to set the subject at ease…  I, I, I don’t believe that…”

Before you think I hate the woman, am jealous or am doing this for other reasons you would be wrong. I am bombarded with an advert and a very public personal statement on portrait photography which I do not feel is right. Portraits and how we as photographers deal with photographic subjects is important to me. This is so different to my thinking I just had to see if her pictures gave credence to this apparent impersonal approach…

Delving into the public information about her was an eyeopener.  A professional, clearly respected and many photographic assets to her name, relying upon peoples’ trust to perform her trade and clearly getting it.  Yet she comes across as having such little care or respect for the people she photographs.

In going through the video advert I felt there was a common theme in her attitude that gave a theme to her work.  In the examples I saw the people were either disadvantaged, or placed in the scene in a way to bring them down; to make them venerable and weak.

I felt as if she enjoyed the opportunity to “instruct” the person to remove clothing or to position themselves unnaturally.  I would even go so far as to say perhaps enjoyed this power in an “unkindly” way.  Clearly this creates a raw controversy in the resulting image that is different from others. – But at what price? With what ethic? Is this art or is this just different?

I stumbled upon references in her Wikipedia entry which actually reinforced my initial feelings far more than I had expected.

Having drawn my conclusion to the advert, I felt compelled to see if I was wrong.  Were there other aspects that I had missed or badly interpreted…?  I stumbled upon references in her Wikipedia entry which actually reinforced my initial feelings far more than I had expected.

According to the wikipedia entry there is a little controversy with the way in which Her Majesty the Queen was treated during her portrait shoot for the anniversary for the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2007.  Whilst the BBC retracted their position and behaved as if it was a “misrepresentation” in the programme they produced, a later 2015 London Times article suggests it did happen.  The wikipedia entry states: “However a 2015 London Times article […]. It stated that the Queen was both incredulous at being asked to remove her crown as ‘no-one tells her what to do’ and insulted as the item was only a tiara.

Also in the wikipedia article are references to the damage and poor repairs to historical buildings which according to the article were done without the necessary permission. Considering historical buildings often have an artistic and cultural value as well, one would expect an artist to care dearly for their preservation and their longevity.  So it is not clear what happened in this case!?

Annie Leibowitz in photography and other human interactions is in my view extraordinary!

If all this is true, and based upon all evidence I have no reason to suspect otherwise, the behaviour of Annie Leibowitz in photography and other human interactions is in my view extraordinary. It is most unexpected to find a person with a world renowned status for both an “artistic” and a “people oriented skill”, who then appears to have such little regard for the dignity of people or for things of artistic historical value.

…the idea that photographers of the future could be led to establish their
niche based upon a lack of consideration worries me.

Exploiting people when photographing their portrait, using their weakness or bullying with your reputation as a photographer to create images at the expense of the person or their reputation is not my idea of a good photographer. She seems to be doing this.

I will not pay to see a masterclass from someone who “advertises” with such an apparent attitude, so I have not seen it.  I appreciate that to have a personal style one is forced to do things differently, but the idea that photographers of the future could be led to establish their niche based upon a lack of consideration for people worries me.

And do I like her photographs?  I concluded this is not important as even if they were the “best in the world” I could not take her apparent attitude and be proud of the results. Nor could I look at one without considering the possible discomfort of the person being photographed. You may wish to read the article link at the end to get a perspective from others!

Her message in the Masterclass advert and my interpretation of Ms Leibovitz’s history and character does nothing to tempt me to value her work nor that of any “Masterclass”.  For me she comes across as nasty and lacking compassion …  And you?


27th Jan 2018 – On a more tongue in cheek point, recent Annie Leibowitz pictures of various prominent women has been exposed as a photoshop “mess” with extra limbs. I wonder what her Masterclass teaches about photoshop… Perhaps Vanity Fair pays her a bonus based upon the number of legs, arms or other “extras”, her subjects are given… 🙂

Other interesting article(s):

The Mystery of Annie Leibovitz’s Economic Collapse Solved: Nobody Likes Her Pictures!