Annie Leibovitz’s Unique Approach to Photography in Her Own Words

Dunelair
3 min readDec 15, 2022

What Makes This Gifted Photographer So Special

Photo by author, Dunelair © Sue Moran Thole

Things happen in front of you. That’s perhaps the most wonderful and mysterious aspect of photography.

…you see the work in a different way when you look at it from the distance of time. You get a sense of where you are going.

In this digital age, it is a delight to read a beautifully crafted fine art book, and this is what Annie Leibovitz and her team and Random House staff have created in her 2008 memoir titled “Annie Leibovitz at Work.”

The simplicity of the graphic design and the beauty of the smooth, silky pages complement the directness of Annie’s words. Reading her recollections feels like sitting across from her over coffee and pastry in your own home with no distractions.

Annie began her career at Rolling Stone, where she recalls, “I was in the thick of it, and I made my own decisions based on what was possible. Things happen in front of you. That’s perhaps the most wonderful and mysterious aspect of photography. It seemed like you just had to decide when and where to aim the camera.”

These two themes keep occurring. First, Lebovitz is refreshingly humble despite her fame, and she credits those who helped her along the way. Secondly, she is spontaneous in the face of opportunity, and her creativity bubbles up to meet the challenges before her.

Her work on Rolling Stone placed her with most of the top musical acts of the seventies and eighties, and the reputation she built there opened doors for her at American Express, Vanity Fair, and Vogue.

Whether Leibovitz was responding to bigger-than-life personalities or horrors of war, her style has been to listen to her intuition and go with it. As a result, she has earned a stellar international reputation. Yet, the paradox of her fame as a quiet force is implicit in her story.

The book is roughly chronological, and technical notes and acknowledgments are at the end. In addition, a “Publishing History” displays thumbnail images of every photograph Leibovitz has in the memoir as it appeared when it was first published.

Photo by author, Dunelair © Sue Moran Thole

Early on, she had an epiphany that helped her develop a more inclusive view of her career. In response to an assignment to review the first ten years of Rolling Stone, she writes, “I looked at everything I had done since I started working. It was a revelation. For one thing, I had no idea that I had accumulated so many photographs. You lose track of them when you’re working every day. And you see the work in a different way when you look at it from the distance of time. You get a sense of where you are going. You start to see a life. Looking at the body of work gave me the impetus to go on.”

This book is a beautiful work of art, and most photographers can relate to Annie’s experiences and insights.

Leibovitz teaches a Masterclass for portrait photographers, and both those who admire her approach and those who don’t, might wish to take her class. Madhvi Ramani has written about it.

Photography as a way of using your voice | by Madhvi Ramani | The Startup | Medium

And

Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography (masterclass.com)

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Dunelair

: Friend, reader, and photographer with eclectic interests. Loves living on California's central coast. Born and raised in West Virginia.