A Complete Picture
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Annie Leibovitz is sitting in her Greenwich Village studio, watching her life flash before her eyes.
Fifteen years of it, to be precise, the part she's collected in her new book, "A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005," whose 472 pages her visitor is flipping through now. It's a startling compilation, including as it does both previously unseen images of her family and her companion, Susan Sontag -- who died in December 2004, just weeks before Leibovitz's father -- and the trademark portraits that shout out to celebrity worshipers from the pages of Vanity Fair.
Different planets? Not to the photographer. Her book title says "life," not "lives." Yet the private and the public work -- and the way Leibovitz talks about them -- can feel shockingly at odds.
Take this close-up of a rippling, naked torso: It's Sylvester Stallone's. "I like him better without his head," she says, explaining the simple Hollywood concept behind the 1993 shot. "He was selling his body."
Now take the nude on white sheets, pillow partially covering her chest, which was shot the following year. This is Sontag, who'd had a radical mastectomy during her first bout with cancer. "I think she felt like she wasn't beautiful -- and I thought she was beautiful," Leibovitz says.
She calls the photograph "one way to show my love."
Flip, flip, flip. More pages turn.
Here's an extended family cavorting at the beach; an intimate moment in a Venetian hotel; a pregnant actress, naked save for the humongous jewels with which she has chosen to ornament her hand and ear. Here are birth and death, artifice and performance, love and loss -- everyday human drama juxtaposed with the theatrical excess that celebrity culture demands.
|Annie Leibovitz's images range from intensity to celebrity. Brad Pitt is pictured. (Annie Leibovitz/Courtesy of Vanity Fair)|
Still, there's no doubt which genre she thinks is the most important right now.
As she told the overflow crowd crammed into Northwest Washington's Politics and Prose bookstore on Monday, putting the book together helped her grieve. She choked up momentarily as she read the last line from her introduction: