Thursday, November 15, 2007

Arts: Annie Leibovitz

In the United States, she is almost as famous as the rock stars and political leaders she photographs. Celebrities consider it an honor to have Annie Leibovitz take their portrait. As Siri Nyrop reports, the latest exhibition of her work is more personal.

She was in her twenties in the 1970s when she made a name for herself taking pictures of rock stars for the top music magazine, 'Rolling Stone'.

Annie Leibovitz became as famous as the artists and public figures she has photographed, such as ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov.

This latest exhibition at Washington's Corcoran Gallery covers her work from 1990 to 2005. Her subjects include world leaders, like Bill Clinton on his first day as president. He refused Leibovitz's request to be photographed smoking the cigar he was puffing when she arrived in the Oval Office.

She photographed President Bush with his top staff. And Britain's Queen Elizabeth, regal even without a crown.

Annie Leibovitz was never a war correspondent, but on assignment in the former Yugoslavia, she took a picture that epitomizes the horror and waste of war. She talks about what happened, "I was on my way to shoot 'Miss Sarajevo', and a mortar went off right in front of my car and killed this young boy on a bicycle right in front of me. My car drove him to the hospital, but he died on the way. I was in such shock that I thought I was photographing with a color camera, but it was black and white."

Pictures of family and friends reveal a personal side of Annie Leibovitz rarely seen. She described how taking pictures helped her cope with the death of a person she loved. "I think sometimes we force ourselves [to photograph] for a lack of knowing what else to do with ourselves. I think we go back to the things that give us comfort, and we know how to do," she said.

Annie Leibovitz sees herself as a documentarian of her time who is lucky to have a profession she loves.

By Siri Nyrop Washington
Published with the permission of Voice of America