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Annie Leibovitz At Work

February 6, 2014

Annie Leibovitz At Work

In mid-December my brother hosted a folk concert at his house.  I posted about it here at sublimedays.

Part of the fun of that night was that my brother had prepared name tags for his guests. Not one of our real names were on the tags. The tags held the names of people in the music industry during the past fifty years.

He asked me ahead of time would I be “Annie Leibovitz” and please take photos of the evening. I was too embarrassed to say to him the thought that immediately came to my mind, “Who is Annie Leibovitz?” What gives me the courage to share this hiccup in my knowledge in this public forum escapes me. But there it is.

I wore the Annie Leibovitz name tag all evening and at some point I admitted to my brother that I didn’t know who Annie was. He looked stunned and said, “You don’t know who Annie Leibovitz is?” as if I’d drawn a blank on Santa Claus.

Anyway, to help me out, he’s shared with me a book from his shelves, Annie Leibovitz At Work (Random House 2008). I’m reading it now and am fascinated by it.

And, come to find out – oh, yes, I know Annie, by her photos. Many of them are iconically familiar. I just didn’t know that it was she who’d supplied us with these incredible images through the past many decades.

The book is set up chronologically. In simple, direct sentences, Leibovitz writes of her creative journey woven through her career, starting at Rolling Stone magazine when it was in its infancy in San Francisco in the early ’70s. Though she’d studied art and took a couple of classes/workshops in photography, her development was really a baptism by fire, as I suppose it is for many photographers – no matter how much training you have. Her photography is displayed throughout the book.

In the book, Leibovitz talks of the technology of photography in her era (and changes in that technology over time), personal doubts and successes, personalities of her photo subjects, her creative development and her view of the historical times in which she photographed. The places and people she photographed include the rock and roll music industry, Hollywood, U. S. politics and countries in conflict. And the Queen of England. And authors and poets. Dancers. And her own family members. On and on, including some ad campaign work.

This book has impacted more than my thoughts on my own photography. It’s impacted my dreams. Not the images of my dreams as you (and I) might think. No.

I am dreaming concepts. No matter the visual or the “story”of the dream, the foundation is shifting concepts. I am dreaming about the relation of things to one another. I am dreaming of fault lines and shifting plates. Not literally. Conceptually. Things that would seem completely dissimilar are finding likeness in each other. I love it.

This isn’t the first time I’ve dreamed in this fashion. It fascinates me when it happens. And I’m certain it’s happening because of the thought process I’m in when I read this book.

Leibovitz was always thinking in a creative way for the portraits she shot. (If you click on that link now, you’ll never finish this post! Please try to wait till you’ve reached the end of the post and then come back and click on it! If you can’t wait, thanks for reading this far!) To read her reasoning behind the set up of a shot is an exercise in achieving clarity of an obscure obvious thing. What I mean is, if you just see her work, you might not get why the subject is photographed in the way she set it up. If you read her creative process for a shot, it makes total sense. Almost as if there would be no other way to photograph that person at that time.

Leibovitz writes objectively of herself as a person/photographer in what have now become unforgettable historical moments that she captured in images.

Reading Annie Leibovitz’s book about her work has inspired me – less so for my photography – more so for my writing. I’ve written before about how visual art fires up something in my brain that enhances my writing process.

I’ve kept my name tag from my brother’s house concert, to remind me to keep expanding the boundaries of my creative work.

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