Annie Leibovitz At Work by Annie Leibovitz:
I really messed up: last Fall, the Wexner Center here in Columbus, Ohio had an exhibit of Annie Leibovitz's portraits, and I never made it. I had all the best intentions of going, even had the ad for the exhibit posted on the fridge. But life (or laziness) just got in the way. When I was chatting with a fellow photog and he mentioned that he had gone, I was resolute to at least take a peek at some of her most famous portraits, including the session with Queen Elizabeth II that my friend had told me all about.
Hence this book, Annie Leibovitz At Work. Yes, just about all her famous portraits can be found here. But what's even better than viewing all the portraits are the stories behind them that she shares on just about every shot in the book. Anyone interested in photography would do themselves a favor to read this book, because she reveals so much of the process behind her work, the technical details and, perhaps most importantly, the things she learned along the way.
Leibovitz recommends that photographers do their homework: if you are photographing a dancer, for instance, check out that person's performance, study all that you can ahead of time about that person. Now, this advice is most applicable to photographing celebrities, but it could certainly be applied in many areas of photography (I'm thinking nature photography especially - learn all you can about dragonflies, for example, if that's what you're shooting. Portrait photography and editorial photography can also benefit from that advice).
Sometimes, it's just a random interesting thought that morphed into an iconic shot. When she photographed The Blues Brothers, she pondered how interesting it would be if they were actually painted blue. Sometimes, her research led her to these interesting thoughts, like when she watched Whoopi Goldberg's stand up comedy act and thought about photographing her in a tub of milk based on a part from Goldberg's act. Time and time again, Leibovitz invites us in to her creative thought process, and shares with us what she learned from specific shoots and specific celebrities: "John [Lennon], who was a legendary figure, someone I revered, taught me that I could be myself."
In addition to sharing almost 200 photos and the insights and processes behind them, Leibovitz also discusses her evolution with equipment, and 10 most-asked questions. Also, there's a really impressive chronology of her professional accomplishments and awards.
Perhaps I did myself a favor after all by missing out on the exhibit. Reading the stories behind the photographs and hearing the lessons she's learned has greatly enriched the experience of viewing her portraits. As DH and I always say, sometimes it pays to procrastinate.