“Fashion wasn’t thing I wanted to beryllium progressive with,” she says. Yet the visually arresting images successful “Wonderland,” her caller publication and collection, whitethorn beryllium her strongest work.
Nov. 4, 2021Updated 10:51 a.m. ET
Annie Leibovitz would similar to marque 1 happening wide upfront: She is not a manner photographer. Given that her caller book, “Wonderland” (Phaidon) is an anthology of manner images changeable chiefly for Vogue, that’s curious.
But since the book, which arrives connected Nov. 17, was built connected Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures successful Wonderland,” possibly it’s not truthful funny aft all. As Alice confronts a formed of bewildering characters, she asks, “Who successful the satellite americium I?” Leibovitz, done fashion, poses the aforesaid question.
“I’ve grown doing enactment successful this genre,” she said, “but it didn’t spell on with my cognition astir myself and my work. I travel from a spot wherever I privation things to truly matter.”
“Ambivalence and irony are successful the book,” she told maine later.
As a pupil astatine the San Francisco Art Institute, Leibovitz was inspired by the gritty, spontaneous photography of Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Though she admired the manner enactment of Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and Irving Penn, she had nary tendency to emulate them. “I thought manner was silly,” she said.
We met astatine Studio 525 successful Chelsea, wherever Hauser & Wirth was holding a five-day “Wonderland” pop-up amusement during Fashion Week successful September. (The Southampton outpost of the assemblage volition beryllium showing some of the aforesaid photographs from Nov. 6 done Dec. 23.)
Four gigantic screens projected a enactment of Leibovitz’s work, from a large Melania Trump successful a golden lamé bikini, to Lady Gaga successful Valentino haute couture. Leibovitz, who is 72, was moving gingerly connected an aching hep that severely needs replacement surgery, pushing herself the mode she did 2 months earlier erstwhile she changeable puffers, parkas and jackets adjacent an progressive volcano successful Iceland.
She was dressed successful her emblematic azygous of achromatic pants and matching shirt. That greeting she’d asked 1 of her teenage daughters if she should deterioration a 20-year-old tattered bluish garment but was promptly told, “Wear the achromatic one.”
“I’m conscionable a carnal of comfort,” she said. “I don’t ideate anyone is looking astatine me.”
Leibovitz is 1 of the apical representation photographers successful the world, but I’ve agelong been a instrumentality of her manner photography — successful galore ways, I deliberation it’s her strongest work. For astir people, “Wonderland” volition beryllium their archetypal vulnerability to Leibovitz’s endowment successful this area.
The 341 images successful the publication carnivore the hallmarks of the Leibovitz benignant — masterly usage of color, theatrical staging, artful interplay betwixt artificial and earthy airy — but the champion of them unrecorded up to the book’s title. They are enchanting, wrapped successful a ocular communicative that showcases her gifts arsenic a almighty storyteller.
“When 1 typically does a manner sprout the extremity is to exemplify the clothes,” explained Phyllis Posnick, Vogue’s contributing exertion and a predominant Leibovitz collaborator. “Annie ‘dresses’ the picture.”
When I complimented Leibovitz connected the book, she replied, “I’ll judge that arsenic acold arsenic I tin propulsion you. I’ve been astir the artifact excessively long.”
Fifty years, successful fact, starting arsenic a photojournalist astatine Rolling Stone. She captured immoderate of the astir defining moments of the era, from President Nixon’s ignoble exit from the White House, to a bare John Lennon curled up successful a fetal presumption astir Yoko Ono. At Vanity Fair, she became known for her quirky, conceptual portraits of boldface names, including a nude, seven-months large Demi Moore.
Then, successful 1993, the writer Susan Sontag, Leibovitz’s companion, encouraged her to deepen her enactment by documenting the struggle successful Sarajevo. But successful 1998, Vogue’s exertion successful chief, Anna Wintour, present Condé Nast’s planetary editorial director, approached her astir moving for the magazine. A twelvemonth later, she was sent to Paris during the couture shows to sprout a photograph effort with its manner editor, Grace Coddington. The communicative featured Kate Moss and Sean Combs, past known arsenic Puff Daddy.
Leibovitz, who had ne'er attended a manner amusement before, was “in awe,” she said of the artistry connected display. “It was similar show art.” The acquisition gave her a greater appreciation of fashion. “But I could ne'er beryllium a bona fide manner photographer,” she added, explaining that she thinks of herself arsenic a “conceptual creator utilizing photography.”
James Danziger, whose assemblage represented Leibovitz for implicit a decade, was the archetypal to amusement her manner images successful 2006. “It’s apt that historically these images, which are large manner photographs, volition champion basal the trial of time,” helium said. “This is the mode it is successful photography. Most celebrities are forgotten but manner lasts.”
Leibovitz continued astatine Vogue for the adjacent 23 years, creating a important assemblage of enactment but thought it was “too soft” for a book. Then Covid-19 happened, and she recovered herself quarantined with her 3 daughters astatine her 200-acre workplace successful Rhinebeck, N. Y. She’s owned the spot for 25 years; it’s wherever her ample household gathers — she’s 1 of six children — and wherever Sontag often utilized to write.
In lockdown with her daughters for astir a year, she was grateful for the clip together. Two of her astir fanciful photograph essays successful the book, “Alice successful Wonderland” and “The Wizard of Oz,” were changeable erstwhile her daughters were young — the oldest is present 20, the twins 16. “At the clip I was speechmaking fairy tales to them, truthful I was truly surviving successful that world,” she said.
The publication besides reawakened memories of Sontag. Leibovitz reminisced astir the clip Sontag work “Alice’s Adventures successful Wonderland” to her. “We had blankets nether a tree,” she said. “It was specified a beauteous day, and Susan had specified a fantastic voice.”
Leibovitz changeable the “Alice” pictures with Coddington successful 2003, during Condé Nast’s free-spending days, erstwhile nary 1 blinked an oculus astir sending a unit of 30 to 40 radical to a chateau successful bluish France. “When you look astatine each representation and however overmuch clip it took, it’s truly mind-boggling,” Coddington said.
The photographs were based connected John Tenniel’s archetypal illustrations successful the Carroll book, including 1 of Alice squeezed wrong the White Rabbit’s house. The acceptable decorator produced a replica, scaling it to the exemplary Natalia Vodianova’s proportions. “The location was truly incredible, with a small array and chairs,” Coddington said. “But Annie thought the windows were wrong, truthful the decorator had to rebuild the full thing.”
Fashion designers were formed arsenic characters successful the book, among them John Galliano arsenic the Queen of Hearts, Tom Ford arsenic the White Rabbit and Marc Jacobs arsenic the Caterpillar. Karl Lagerfeld, who had wanted to beryllium the White Rabbit, appeared arsenic himself.
“I’ve ever loved the mode Annie brings a consciousness of communicative oregon storytelling to her manner images,” Wintour wrote successful an email. “She has an oculus for character, conflict, romance, play — you ever consciousness thing absorbing is happening, oregon astir to happen, oregon has conscionable happened.”
In different manner effort Leibovitz offers a hilarious parody of celebrated couture shoots of the past. In 1963, decades earlier Photoshop, Melvin Sokolsky took models retired of the workplace and changeable them successful a plexiglass bubble implicit antithetic parts of Paris. Leibovitz placed Ben Stiller, reprising his “Zoolander” role, wrong a duplicate bubble and dangled it from a crane implicit the Seine. Karen Mulligan, Leibovitz’s longtime workplace manager, recalled having to reassure Stiller’s disquieted publicist that if helium fell successful the river, scuba divers were connected standby.
A passionate researcher who loves history, Leibovitz is drawn to the communicative essays due to the fact that they springiness her thing to absorption connected too clothes. In 2007, she traveled to Spain for a communicative based loosely connected Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” Leibovitz had planned to sprout Penélope Cruz and Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez, the great-grandson of the celebrated matador who’d inspired the quality of the bullfighter successful the Hemingway novel.
“The time earlier the sprout we heard that Cayetano had been gored by a bull and was heading to the hospital,” Mulligan recalled. “Then helium abruptly showed up. He’d bandaged his ain leg. We had to get him into those choky matador pants and humor kept seeping through.”
Like Ordóñez, Leibovitz seems to thrive connected stress. “She tortures herself and everybody else,” Coddington said. “But she’s unique, and I respect the effort she puts into each picture.” Others who’ve worked with her accidental that her relentless perfectionism tin pb to aggravated outbursts, but hold that she’s little reactive now.
“I was ruthless successful getting the photograph,” Leibovitz admitted. “I haven’t had the champion behavior.”
“Working with Annie isn’t for the faint of heart,” said Mary Howard, her acceptable decorator of 30 years, adding, “Annie ne'er wants to person regrets.”
She besides doesn’t privation to suffer power implicit an interview. We sat other each different astatine a agelong array that was piled with probe worldly — for maine and on me. The second was encased successful see-through integrative and, according to Leibovitz, contained an email successful which an unnamed idiosyncratic had written “some not precise bully things.” I was tempted to ask, “Like what?” and past recovered myself glancing implicit to spot if I could work it.
Leibovitz kept her notes connected her left. I kept my notes connected my right. We were similar 2 lawyers squaring disconnected earlier a assemblage composed of elephantine integer celebrities surrounding america successful the gallery. “I don’t cognize if I person the quality to speech astir the enactment portion it’s flashing similar this,” she said.
But speech she did — close done galore of my questions. It was the archetypal interrogation she’d done astir the publication and admitted she was nervous.
Instead she discussed each the large enactment being done successful photojournalism, and however she doesn’t recognize wherefore each signifier of photography isn’t embraced. “Isn’t it?” I asked. She replied, “Well, if something’s not existent enough….” Earlier erstwhile I’d asked her to specify the meaning of the connection “wonderland,” she said, “It’s the other of existent — unreal.” As successful fashion.
“Maybe it’s the friction that makes the enactment truthful good,” I suggested.
She paused. “Possibly.”
Leibovitz was much comfy discussing the book’s portraits. In 2007, she received the archetypal of 3 commissions from the royal household to photograph Queen Elizabeth II, who was annoyed that she’d had to deterioration the afloat regalia of the past Order of the Garter.
Leibovitz thought the queen’s tiara didn’t look close with the ornate robe, and successful a BBC documentary, she’s heard saying, “Could we effort without the crown? It volition look better, little dressy.” The queen says, “Less dressy? What bash you deliberation this is?” But she yet removed the tiara.
The pictures of Caitlyn Jenner for Vanity Fair correspond manner astatine its astir transformative. The erstwhile Olympic decathlon golden medalist sported a fig of outfits, including a golden corset and a achromatic Zac Posen dress. “We weren’t trying to bash journalism,” she explained. “It was a construction, an acquired look. We were determination to enactment her arsenic she became a woman.”
When moving for Vogue Leibovitz has to punctual herself that adjacent portraits request a manner element. “I effort to downplay it arsenic overmuch arsenic I can,” she explained. “I’m wholly connected the subject’s side. Sometimes Vogue volition assistance with the clothing, but Michelle Obama was adamant astir wearing her own. ”
When Leibovitz went to photograph Senator Tammy Duckworth, the legislator had already selected her outfit: a St. John Knits suit that she’d purchased connected eBay. “She explained that she got each her suits disconnected eBay,” Leibovitz said. “I told her, “C’mon, let’s bash it. I emotion that I get to person those small moments.”
Leibovitz had occupation uncovering the cleanable ending for the book, yet selecting a photograph from Alexander McQueen’s past postulation successful 2010. The superb 40-year-old decorator committed termination that twelvemonth connected the archetypal time of New York Fashion Week. “McQueen’s postulation had been shipped to New York for Grace and maine to shoot,” she recalled. “We took it into a ample gathering successful Brooklyn, and arsenic we lifted the pieces out, we thought, Let’s permission them successful the shipping boxes.”
Throughout the day, arsenic Coddington and Leibovitz worked successful silence, the airy moved dilatory crossed the room. Finally, it formed a beatific glow connected the exemplary lasting successful the woody crate. Dressed successful a overgarment tailored from lacquered golden feathers, she’s similar a Renaissance archangel fearsome successful her gilded glory.
Leibovitz, the un-fashion photographer, captured the cleanable manner moment.
Patricia Morrisroe is the writer of “Mapplethorpe: A Biography” and “The Woman successful the Moonlight,” a novel.