In the course of a conversation this past summer, it was mentioned that Annie Leibovitz was going to be in Seattle that November. As soon as I heard this, I was gone. Blank stare. Absent from the conversation. I was thinking, “What would it be like to photograph Annie Leibovitz? Would she let someone else take her portrait? I don’t think so. She is one of the greatest photographers ever. The only pictures I have ever seen of her were self portraits. How nervous would I be if I got to take her portrait?” A couple of months later, I received an email from a photo editor at Seattle Metropolitan; “Do you want to photograph Annie Leibovitz?”
I thought a lot about how I would photograph her. But after dreaming about some grand and sizable production ideas, I decided not to try to do too much. I would just do what I do best, and keep it simple. We were scheduled to shoot in a private meeting room in a downtown Seattle hotel, with no chance of moving to a different location. Because of her full schedule that day, I knew she would be tired. An interview with Steve Scher on NPR (listen here) right before the shoot, and speaking at Benaroya Hall for ‘Seattle Arts & Lectures‘ right after. I had a small window of time to work with her.
When Annie came into the room, she looked around at the lighting setup, and said, “Wow, this looks scary.” My thoughts exactly, but it wasn’t the lights I was thinking about. We talked a few minutes about photography and cameras before she sat down. Then I told her about my idea for the portrait, and asked if she would mind taking off her glasses. She said that was fine, and I started to shoot. It was a balancing act trying to find the line between being in control to get what I wanted, and not being pushy. I could tell that she was not comfortable being photographed. She moved around a lot while I shot, and I decided to be flexible rather than push too much to hold a certain pose. Things don’t always go exactly to plan, and sometimes this can be a pleasant surprise. It felt like the shoot ended up being a collaboration in making the pictures. It’s not often that I work with someone who is so willing to be expressive and experiment as she was. Shortly after we started, the shoot came to an end, and I knew that I had the shot. I thanked her for her time, and she said, “You did good.” I’ll take it! What a compliment.
The article that was published in Seattle Metropolitan, and written by Steve Wieking can be read here.
*Update* – My portrait of Annie Leibovitz was selected in the American Photography 25 Competition (AP25) and will be published in November 2009. This is a huge honor for me! The link will take you to a post with more about the award.