I’m a writer. I’m not a good photographer. I would be … but my hands shake slightly. It ruins the picture. Nonetheless, this morning when you led a press tour through your new show at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, I simply had to take a picture of you. I mean, it’s Annie Leibovitz. You have to take her picture.
I know you understand. Because you nearly stalked your #1 hero, Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), on a Paris “pont” to get a shot of him. The result (you admitted today) is not your best; it’s “pose-y,” he did it grudgingly. It’s the opposite of the Leibovitz signature style — in-between, caught-off-guard, stolen-and-forever-frozen moments that you pioneered, elevated to high art. It’s now on view in Hauser’s 4,000-image showcase of your early career. Creating the show entailed, for you, a revisiting of the girl who had the “drive & craziness, & insanity to work like this,” as you put it. You also said, “I had no real personal life. It was all photography. My refrigerator was always empty.”
On the photo-crammed walls, along with C-B, are other camera men of your panoply: Richard Avedon, Ansel Adams, Robert Frank, Helmut Newton, and even Andy Warhol. By the way, I love the one of Warhol and Lou Reed with a klatch of “Interview” magazine people. Dressed in his three-piece ensemble, he looks like a dandy.
A funny moment came when Hauser curators gave journalists strict instructions, “No photography, of Annie or of her work, till the tour is over.” Cell phones slipped into pockets … for about ten minutes. Slowly, slowly out they came, first surreptitiously, then, hell, it’s Annie Leibovitz! I’m taking her picture.
Soon you said with a laugh, “They can shoot photos.” And that was perfect. For there we all were, surrounded by hard-copy evidence of your early adult life spent doing just that. Snapping ubiquitously and illicitly. Snapping the naughty, the disallowed, the private, the backstage. A prodigious output and a cultural tour of our times. You didn’t just photograph close-ups, like Mick Jagger taking a backstage catnap and Keith Richard in a tee-shirt reading, “Who the Fuck is Mick Jagger?” You climbed to the top row of Madison Square Garden, on both sides of the arena, for spooky architectural vistas during the concert. Your shot resembles a televangelist church, the landing scene in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, a boxing ring, or a Roman forum replete with gladiators.
Gladiators of our lives … the Rolling Stones. So, I do hope you will forgive my cruddy photos from the morning. They were taken with love.
Annie Leibovitz, The Early Years 1970 – 1983 | Hauser & Wirth | thru April 14