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A Complete Picture

Photographer Annie Leibovitz in her Greenwich Village studio
The superstar photographer in her studio. The combination of popular and personal imagery in her new book is "the closest thing to who I am that I've ever done." (Helayne Seidman for The Washington Post)

Their being together wasn't "something that we went around and broadcast." Sontag liked privacy -- toward the end of her life, she tried not to do interviews with anyone she didn't know -- and Leibovitz doesn't volunteer too much emotional detail.

She doesn't have to. The images -- whether of Sontag curled up with work-in-progress on a hotel bed, cradling Leibovitz's newborn child, suffering through chemotherapy or elegantly laid out for burial -- do that work themselves.

So do the family pictures: of Leibovitz's parents dancing with a grandson and renewing their wedding vows, of her peaceful-looking father on the day he died and of her mother lying in bed the morning afterward, a daughter on one side, a granddaughter on the other.

Leibovitz had slept with her that night, not wanting her to be alone. In the morning, according to family custom, the others just crawled in.

'Sarajevo Next to Brad Pitt'

"A Photographer's Life" began with Leibovitz digging through old pictures to put together a little book for Sontag's memorial service. The more she dug, the more images she found that she didn't know she had.

She'd signed a contract with Random House for a collection that was to cover the years from 1990 to 2005. These were the years she'd been with Sontag. She began to think of combining her personal and public work.

The notion wasn't without precedent for her. In the late '90s, Stern magazine had asked her to put together some work for its "Portfolio" series, in which whole issues are devoted to individual photographers.

"I did the edit as if this is the photographer I'd like to be ," she says. "I took the assignment work and the personal work and made it the same size, and I was floored with how it worked: Everything was sort of made democratic."

She points out some of the effects that the project created. For example: "Here was suddenly Sarajevo next to Brad Pitt."

Annie Leibovitz's book features intense images like a bicycle on a blood-staned Bosnian road.
Annie Leibovitz's book features intense images like a bicycle on a blood-staned Bosnian road. (Photographs © Annie Leibovitz from "A Photographers Life" Random House, 2006)
Whoa. What happens when you do that , she is asked?

"Well, what do you think happens," she shoots back.

But that kind of bizarre counterpoint was actually happening in her life. She'd go to Sarajevo, shoot a baby being born, without anesthesia, in the midst of the siege; shoot a bloody smear on the road where a boy had been blown off his bicycle -- and the next thing she knew, "I had to remember which side to shoot Barbra Streisand's face from."


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