Annie Leibovitz at Work

Author: Annie Leibovitz

Publisher: Random House

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

We are absorbed by celebrity photographers, that is, photographers who photograph celebrities and who have become celebrities in their own right. Lord Snowden and Richard Avedon come to mind. (Avedon was so famous that a loosely fictionalized movie musical about him was made: “Funny Face” with Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn). Today’s biggest celebrity photographer is Annie Leibovitz. She does it all: portraits, news photography, landscapes, nudes.

“Annie Leibovitz at Work” is a collection of her photographs and recollections. There are short chapters ranging between a few sentences and several pages. Each chapter is supported by one or more of the photographer’s pictures. They are all here: John and Yoko, Schwarzenegger on the white horse, O.J., Sarajevo.

One might think that the book would provide insights into how Leibovitz gets her vision, or what her internal life is like or at least something meaningful about her subjects. There is a tip of the hat to these matters, but mostly Leibovitz just follows the route of “then I did this, and then I did that, and then I did the other thing.” We want insights and we get a peek. In fact, in her musings, she almost suggests that the photograph can’t provide us with understanding of the world. I began to wonder if there was no there there.

Perhaps as a sop to those who thought they would learn to take better pictures, or at least something about the photographer’s technique, there are two chapters at the end of the book entitled “Equipment” and “the Ten Most Asked Questions”. These chapters are as light weight as the rest of the book. Those interested in learning how to take pictures of celebrities or otherwise would be far better off reading the books of authors who have not achieved celebrity status outside of the photographic world like Joe McNally or Michael Grecco.

The book could have redeemed itself with Leibovitz’ pictures, except that they are all printed at snapshot size. Her pictures deserve more real estate.

The most telling thing about this book is that nowhere on the cover or title page does it say that Leibovitz wrote this book. Instead, in the back of the book we find the statement “Text based on conversations with Sharon Delano.” Let’s hope we get better information when the photographer actually writes her own book.
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