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19
Aug

"How Could This Happen to Annie Leibovitz?"

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Celebrity

Portrait of Annie Leibovitz by John Keatley.  An honest look at the great celebrity photographer.

As you may already know, last November I had the privilege of photographing one of the photography greats, Annie Leibovitz.  (Here) is an earlier post about my experience photographing her.  Then just a few months ago, I found out my portrait of Annie was selected for AP25 (American Photography 25 silver-anniversary competition) which is a selection of the best photographs from 2008.  The selected photographs will be compiled in a book this coming November.  Having already written about this, I don’t want to be too repetitive, but Annie Leibovitz is in the news again.  This time, it was not because she offended someone, or got a celebrity to pose nude.  New York Magazine came out with an article this week about Annie, and the hard times that she has come into.  Not to make light of a difficult situation, but I am pleased that one of my portraits was licensed for this article.  Here is a link to “How Could This Happen to Annie Leibovitz? The $24 million question” written by Andrew Goldman for New York Magazine.  It is a fantastic story, and definitely worth reading.

With all of the news flying around about Annie, I decided to take a look at my portraits of her again.  This picture in particular has always pulled at me.  I have thought about showing it in the past, but there was something that always seemed to make me leave it alone.  Looking at it again now, in light of what is going on, it seemed to take on new life.  This was one of those moments that came and went in a split second.  I had shot several frames already, including the one I have been showing.  There was a moment where she didn’t know what to do with her hands, and maybe felt a bit self conscious about being photographed.  She quickly rubbed her eyes and pulled her hair back from her face and the moment was gone.  I can’t say I captured this image because of some magic of my own.  In all honesty, I’m sure it was an accident I caught this.  But in this portrait, I see so much honesty and vulnerability.  Something not easily captured, regardless of the subject.  A good lesson for me: a great portrait isn’t always created by controlling my subject, but rather capturing an organic moment in a controlled setting.

New York Magazine “How Could This Happen to Annie Leibovitz?” http://nymag.com/fashion/09/fall/58346/

*Side Note*  Thank you to everyone who has written me about the comments not showing up properly in Safari and Firefox.  It looks like the issue has been resolved, and I apologize if you felt that I was ignoring your questions.  I may have actually responded, but the comment just didn’t show up properly.  It turns out that white text on a white background can be hard to read.

07
Jan

Portrait of Annie Leibovitz

Posted by John Keatley / Filed under Celebrity

Annie Leibovitz Portrait by John Keatley

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.