Annie Leibovitz would like to make just one point obvious upfront: She is not a trend photographer. Specified that her new ebook, “Wonderland” (Phaidon) is an anthology of trend pictures shot generally for Vogue, that’s curious.
But because the ebook, which arrives on Nov. 17, was created on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” potentially it is not so curious after all. As Alice confronts a cast of bewildering characters, she asks, “Who in the environment am I?” Leibovitz, via style, poses the identical problem.
“I’ve developed accomplishing get the job done in this style,” she stated, “but it didn’t go alongside with my notion about myself and my perform. I arrive from a put wherever I want issues to definitely subject.”
“Ambivalence and irony are in the e-book,” she explained to me afterwards.
As a college student at the San Francisco Artwork Institute, Leibovitz was motivated by the gritty, spontaneous photography of Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson. While she admired the manner get the job done of Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and Irving Penn, she had no drive to emulate them. “I believed fashion was silly,” she stated.
We met at Studio 525 in Chelsea, exactly where Hauser & Wirth was keeping a five-working day “Wonderland” pop-up exhibit for the duration of Trend 7 days in September. (The Southampton outpost of the gallery will be displaying some of the similar pictures from Nov. 6 via Dec. 23.)
Four gigantic screens projected a collection of Leibovitz’s get the job done, from a expecting Melania Trump in a gold lamé bikini, to Lady Gaga in Valentino haute couture. Leibovitz, who is 72, was moving gingerly on an aching hip that badly wants substitute surgery, pushing herself the way she did two months earlier when she shot puffers, parkas and jackets in the vicinity of an energetic volcano in Iceland.
She was dressed in her usual uniform of black trousers and matching shirt. That morning she’d questioned one of her teenage daughters if she really should have on a 20-calendar year-previous tattered blue shirt but was immediately told, “Wear the black just one.”
“I’m just a creature of comfort and ease,” she stated. “I don’t imagine anybody is looking at me.”
Leibovitz is 1 of the best portrait photographers in the world, but I’ve prolonged been a fan of her manner images — in lots of techniques, I assume it’s her strongest perform. For most men and women, “Wonderland” will be their to start with publicity to Leibovitz’s expertise in this region.
The 341 images in the guide bear the hallmarks of the Leibovitz design — masterly use of coloration, theatrical staging, artful interplay involving artificial and organic light-weight — but the best of them live up to the book’s title. They are enchanting, wrapped in a visible narrative that showcases her items as a powerful storyteller.
“When a person generally does a trend shoot the intention is to illustrate the garments,” described Phyllis Posnick, Vogue’s contributing editor and a repeated Leibovitz collaborator. “Annie ‘dresses’ the photograph.”
When I complimented Leibovitz on the book, she replied, “I’ll think that as much as I can throw you. I’ve been all around the block far too extended.”
Fifty a long time, in truth, setting up as a photojournalist at Rolling Stone. She captured some of the most defining times of the era, from President Nixon’s ignoble exit from the White Dwelling, to a bare John Lennon curled up in a fetal place all-around Yoko Ono. At Self-importance Fair, she grew to become recognised for her quirky, conceptual portraits of boldface names, together with a nude, seven-months expecting Demi Moore.
Then, in 1993, the writer Susan Sontag, Leibovitz’s companion, inspired her to deepen her perform by documenting the conflict in Sarajevo. But in 1998, Vogue’s editor in chief, Anna Wintour, now Condé Nast’s global editorial director, approached her about working for the magazine. A year afterwards, she was sent to Paris in the course of the couture exhibits to shoot a image essay with its trend editor, Grace Coddington. The story highlighted Kate Moss and Sean Combs, then regarded as Puff Daddy.
Leibovitz, who experienced under no circumstances attended a trend display prior to, was “in awe,” she explained of the artistry on display screen. “It was like functionality art.” The encounter gave her a higher appreciation of fashion. “But I could never ever be a bona fide vogue photographer,” she included, describing that she thinks of herself as a “conceptual artist applying images.”
James Danziger, whose gallery represented Leibovitz for about a decade, was the first to demonstrate her vogue visuals in 2006. “It’s probably that historically these pictures, which are excellent style images, will best stand the test of time,” he mentioned. “This is the way it is in pictures. Most celebrities are forgotten but style lasts.”
Leibovitz continued at Vogue for the up coming 23 several years, producing a considerable physique of get the job done but assumed it was “too soft” for a book. Then Covid-19 took place, and she located herself quarantined with her 3 daughters at her 200-acre farm in Rhinebeck, N. Y. She’s owned the residence for 25 several years it’s wherever her substantial loved ones gathers — she’s a single of 6 kids — and wherever Sontag usually applied to compose.
In lockdown with her daughters for just about a yr, she was grateful for the time alongside one another. Two of her most fanciful photo essays in the guide, “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Wizard of Oz,” were shot when her daughters ended up younger — the oldest is now 20, the twins 16. “At the time I was reading through fairy tales to them, so I was seriously residing in that entire world,” she explained.
The reserve also reawakened memories of Sontag. Leibovitz reminisced about the time Sontag browse “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” to her. “We had blankets beneath a tree,” she stated. “It was these types of a beautiful working day, and Susan experienced these a superb voice.”
Leibovitz shot the “Alice” images with Coddington in 2003, through Condé Nast’s no cost-expending times, when no a person blinked an eye about sending a crew of 30 to 40 persons to a chateau in northern France. “When you glimpse at just about every image and how substantially time it took, it’s truly intellect-boggling,” Coddington claimed.
The pictures had been dependent on John Tenniel’s initial illustrations in the Carroll book, like a single of Alice squeezed inside of the White Rabbit’s house. The set designer made a reproduction, scaling it to the design Natalia Vodianova’s proportions. “The property was genuinely amazing, with a tiny table and chairs,” Coddington stated. “But Annie assumed the home windows ended up mistaken, so the designer had to rebuild the full point.”
Manner designers were solid as people in the book, among the them John Galliano as the Queen of Hearts, Tom Ford as the White Rabbit and Marc Jacobs as the Caterpillar. Karl Lagerfeld, who had desired to be the White Rabbit, appeared as himself.
“I’ve constantly liked the way Annie provides a perception of narrative or storytelling to her manner photos,” Wintour wrote in an e-mail. “She has an eye for character, conflict, romance, drama — you often sense something interesting is occurring, or about to occur, or has just occurred.”
In a further fashion essay Leibovitz delivers a hilarious parody of popular couture shoots of the past. In 1963, a long time just before Photoshop, Melvin Sokolsky took types out of the studio and shot them in a plexiglass bubble about diverse pieces of Paris. Leibovitz positioned Ben Stiller, reprising his “Zoolander” job, within a replicate bubble and dangled it from a crane in excess of the Seine. Karen Mulligan, Leibovitz’s longtime studio manager, recalled obtaining to reassure Stiller’s anxious publicist that if he fell in the river, scuba divers ended up on standby.
A passionate researcher who loves historical past, Leibovitz is drawn to the narrative essays due to the fact they give her anything to emphasis on apart from clothes. In 2007, she traveled to Spain for a story based mostly loosely on Hemingway’s “The Solar Also Rises.” Leibovitz experienced prepared to shoot Penélope Cruz and Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez, the terrific-grandson of the famed matador who’d motivated the character of the bullfighter in the Hemingway novel.
“The working day in advance of the shoot we heard that Cayetano had been gored by a bull and was heading to the clinic,” Mulligan recalled. “Then he all of a sudden confirmed up. He’d bandaged his personal leg. We experienced to get him into all those limited matador pants and blood kept seeping by way of.”
Like Ordóñez, Leibovitz seems to prosper on anxiety. “She tortures herself and most people else,” Coddington reported. “But she’s distinctive, and I admire the effort she puts into each individual photograph.” Other people who’ve labored with her say that her relentless perfectionism can lead to indignant outbursts, but agree that she’s considerably less reactive now.
“I was ruthless in receiving the photograph,” Leibovitz admitted. “I have not had the finest behavior.”
“Working with Annie isn’t for the faint of heart,” explained Mary Howard, her set designer of 30 several years, incorporating, “Annie by no means wants to have regrets.”
She also doesn’t want to lose management above an job interview. We sat reverse each and every other at a extensive table that was piled with exploration materials — for me and on me. The latter was encased in see-as a result of plastic and, according to Leibovitz, contained an e-mail in which an unnamed person experienced written “some not really awesome things.” I was tempted to talk to, “Like what?” and then observed myself glancing about to see if I could go through it.
Leibovitz stored her notes on her remaining. I held my notes on my suitable. We were being like two lawyers squaring off right before a jury composed of huge digital stars encompassing us in the gallery. “I never know if I have the potential to chat about the function whilst it’s flashing like this,” she mentioned.
But chat she did — proper as a result of lots of of my thoughts. It was the first job interview she’d finished about the e-book and admitted she was anxious.
As an alternative she talked about all the terrific perform staying accomplished in photojournalism, and how she does not have an understanding of why just about every variety of photography isn’t embraced. “Isn’t it?” I asked. She replied, “Well, if something’s not serious enough….” Previously when I’d requested her to define the indicating of the word “wonderland,” she explained, “It’s the reverse of serious — unreal.” As in style.
“Maybe it is the friction that tends to make the function so good,” I proposed.
She paused. “Possibly.”
Leibovitz was extra comfortable speaking about the book’s portraits. In 2007, she received the initial of three commissions from the royal domestic to photograph Queen Elizabeth II, who was annoyed that she’d experienced to put on the total regalia of the historical Purchase of the Garter.
Leibovitz believed the queen’s tiara did not glimpse suitable with the ornate robe, and in a BBC documentary, she’s heard saying, “Could we attempt without the crown? It will glance superior, less dressy.” The queen suggests, “A lot less dressy? What do you believe this is?” But she in the long run taken off the tiara.
The shots of Caitlyn Jenner for Self-importance Honest stand for trend at its most transformative. The former Olympic decathlon gold medalist sported a selection of outfits, which include a gold corset and a black Zac Posen costume. “We weren’t seeking to do journalism,” she stated. “It was a design, an obtained search. We had been there to assistance her as she became a lady.”
When operating for Vogue Leibovitz has to remind herself that even portraits need a vogue factor. “I attempt to downplay it as significantly as I can,” she stated. “I’m completely on the subject’s side. Occasionally Vogue will support with the outfits, but Michelle Obama was adamant about wearing her individual. ”
When Leibovitz went to photograph Senator Tammy Duckworth, the senator had presently picked her outfit: a St. John Knits suit that she’d procured on eBay. “She described that she got all her suits off eBay,” Leibovitz reported. “I told her, “C’mon, let’s do it. I really like that I get to have all those minimal times.”
Leibovitz experienced problems getting the excellent ending for the e book, at last selecting a photograph from Alexander McQueen’s previous selection in 2010. The good 40-12 months-previous designer dedicated suicide that 12 months on the very first day of New York Manner 7 days. “McQueen’s selection had been transported to New York for Grace and me to shoot,” she recalled. “We took it into a substantial making in Brooklyn, and as we lifted the items out, we believed, Let us depart them in the delivery boxes.”
In the course of the day, as Coddington and Leibovitz worked in silence, the gentle moved slowly across the room. Eventually, it cast a beatific glow on the design standing in the wood crate. Dressed in a coat tailored from lacquered gold feathers, she’s like a Renaissance archangel fearsome in her gilded glory.
Leibovitz, the un-trend photographer, captured the best fashion instant.
Patricia Morrisroe is the writer of “Mapplethorpe: A Biography” and “The Girl in the Moonlight,” a novel.