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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Annie Leibovitz

I've always had mixed feelings about Ms. Leibovitz. I still do. I've been spending some time with her massive A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005, which I got out of the library to look over her treatment of Sontag's sickness and death. It's a strange mix of family snaps (often quite good) and professional work. She claims that there is no delineation between the two which... well. I'm not sure. The for-pay portraits certainly leap without possibility of mistake off the page. There's other for-pay work which blends in with the personal, though.

In particular there are two groups of pictures that I want to talk about briefly.

A couple pictures from Venice appear in the book, which are of mostly water and fog, one has some buildings enshrouded in mist. I cannot find copies of these things online, which seems to me incredible, so you'll have to settle for this terrible repro from the book. While terrible, the repro is adequate to the task, yes, it really is just a wash of tone and texture.

These Venice pictures strike me in two ways. First as a gigantic Fuck You to everyone else who ever shot Venice and gave us bridges and gondolas and that one piazza. Second as a, perhaps, personal true impression of Venice. These few photos are very convincing as an illustration of early morning, or perhaps late evening, when the world is covered in mist and things are moist and close and cold and that's how it was.

It may be worth your while to compare with Mike Chisholm's pictures from Florence

The second group of photos was apparently shot on assignment for "Condé Nast Traveler" and dates from the same era. I can find these pictures online.

Again, it's a weird goddamned thing, shot from a helicopter, all blurry and whatnot. And yet, again, I feel like it might be something genuine. "Condé Nast Traveler" by her account did not love the pictures, which I can understand.

Anyways, there's more to Annie than I had guessed.

All the cited pictures yield a similar answer to the old photographer's question of How can I shoot the same old shit and make it new and original? which is, obviously, don't shoot the same old shit at all.

Obvious, in hindsight, at any rate.


  1. I do hope you're not suggesting by the comparison that I've been shooting the same old shit... Hey, I even resisted doing the ironic-iconic "people en masse pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower" shot when in Pisa... ;)


    1. I absolutely intended your pictures to be included in 'all the pictures cited' and I think you did a great job of shooting recognizable Chisholms (and not the same old shit all) in Florence!

    2. Well, thanks! As they say, wherever you go, there you are!


  2. My deeply felt comment about the book is that it is simply too darn big and heavy. I'm 6'3" but just can't get comfortable with it anywhere except at our big table, and I hate reading at a table. So, there!

    1. If you're far-sighted and still refuse to get reading glasses, then you can just set it on the floor and stand over it!