Archive Fever: Annie Leibovitz in Arles

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday May 11, 2017

Smart phones and social media make it possible for anyone to become a celebrity—if only in their own minds and in those of their best “friends.” But while the book on celebrity culture is yet to be written, the photos have already been made.

Annie Leibovitz, the photographer whose work for Rolling Stone (1970 to 1983) elevated the genre to an art form, will be celebrated for this achievement when a show of her early work opens in the Provençal city of Arles, France later this month. The Luma Foundation, an arts organization headed by Swiss art collector and entrepreneur Maja Hoffman, has acquired Leibovitz’s personal archive, and has organized the inaugural show from this collection, opening in the medieval town on May 27. 

© Annie Leibovitz, photographs from the “driving” series, courtesy the Luma Foundation

Ian Jeffrey, writing in The Photography Book (Phaidon, 2nd edition), says, “At first, when she began to take portraits of rock and pop music stars for Rolling Stone magazine in San Francisco in 1970, portraits still showed the subject as a personality. As the 1980s unwound,” he continues, personality and fame drew further apart; and this process can be followed to perfection in Leibovitz’s art, published in two major collections in 1983 and 1991.” Her ability to cut to the chase during her brief encounters with larger-than-life personalities is central to the success of those images. Speaking of her work, Leibovitz has said, “You don't have to sort of enhance reality. There is nothing stranger than truth.”

The show, entitled Annie Leibovitz Archive Project #1: The Early Years, will feature over 8,000 images taken between 1968 and 1983, and will trace Leibovitz’s development, from the in-house photographer of Rolling Stone to her subsequent position as the go-to imagemaker for the world’s most recognizable figures—including the Queen of England.

So far the Luma Foudnation has released just one picture—a composite of portraits from Leibovitz’s Driving Series, which includes everyone from Mick Jagger to Jack Lemmon to Marvin Gaye, so you’ll have to wait for the remaining 7,885 or so photographs. A companion book will be published this summer by Prestel, but for now, the 2014 Sumo edition of Leibovitz’s fashion images from Taschen, which weighs in at $2,500, will have to do.

Annie Leibovitz Archive Project #1: The Early Years, May 27-September 24. LUMA Arles, France. Info

Annie Leibovitz was born on October 2, 1949, in Waterbury, Connecticut. While studying painting at the San Francisco Art Institute, she took night classes in photography, and in 1970 she began doing work for Rolling Stone magazine. She became Rolling Stone’s chief photographer in 1973. By the time she left the magazine, 10 years later, she had shot 142 covers. In 1983, she joined the staff at Vanity Fair, and in 1998 she also began working regularly for Vogue. In addition to her magazine editorial work, Leibovitz has created several award-winning advertising campaigns. She has also collaborated with many arts organizations, including American Ballet Theatre, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Mark Morris Dance Group, and with Mikhail Baryshnikov. Her books include Annie Leibovitz: Photographs(1983), Photographs: Annie Leibovitz 1970–1990 (1991), Olympic Portraits(1996), Women (1999), American Music(2003), A Photographer’s Life: 1990–2005 (2006), Annie Leibovitz at Work(2008), Pilgrimage (2011), and Annie Leibovitz, a limited-edition, over-sized volume published by Taschen in 2014.

Exhibitions of her photographs have appeared at museums and galleries all over the world, including the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.; the International Center of Photography in New York; the Brooklyn Museum; the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris; the National Portrait Gallery in London; and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Leibovitz has been designated a Living Legend by the Library of Congress and is the recipient of many other honors, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Center of Photography, the Centenary Medal of the Royal Photographic Society in London, and the Wexner Prize. She has been decorated a Commandeur in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. Leibovitz lives in New York with her three children, Sarah, Susan, and Samuelle.



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