Photographer of the Day: Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz

b.1949

Today’s PotD is my inspiration, Annie Leibovitz. This is about to be a real fan girl session for today’s lesson, so bear with me. There will be knowledge, I promise.

Annie (I love her so much I’m just gonna go with her first name,) had always been into the arts, but she studied painting during her time at the San Francisco Art Institute. She had been working on her photography all this time though, and when the Rolling Stone magazine was born, Annie was a staff photographer, and eventually the chief photographer. She was a boss, and it is all her fault (in the best way,) for the Rolling Stone‘s aesthetic.

One of the best (and I guess worst,) stories about her decade at the Rolling Stone was when she photographed John Lennon for the cover. You’ve probably seen the iconic image, of him and Yoko Ono, which Annie orchestrated. Can you imagine telling John Lennon to take off his clothes? I sure can’t. Thing is, she photographed him on December 8, 1980– five hours after taking his picture, he was shot and killed.

Lennon’s Last Photo

The biggest reason why I adore Annie so much is the fact her work is very constructed, very beautiful, and very colorful. Very. She was also a boss at lighting, so all of these great things got her a position at Vanity Fair, which is who she primarily works for today. Seriously, this woman is such an inspiration.

The Wizard of Oz with Keira Knightley by Annie Leibovitz for Vogue.

The Wizard of Oz with Keira Knightley by Annie Leibovitz for Vogue.

“Hello, my name is Annie Leibovitz, and I just casually photograph the Queen of England.” -Annie, probably.

The Drew Barrymore Beauty and the Beast photograph was used as inspiration for my Home Sweet Home series, believe it or not. Annie’s lighting on point.

I could probably list her images all day long. Her vision and execution of her work is something to work towards.

Another story for you: I met a professional photographer, who takes a lot of celebrity portraits in LA. Well, when he first graduated, his professor set him up with an internship with Annie Leibovitz. So he called them, to see when he needed to relocate to New York, and they said they would get back to him. This happened a few more times, and eventually he found out that they gave his internship to one of the Olsen twins. C’est la vie.

It’s no surprise that Annie is a perfectionist, and her shoots cost a fortune to create. I know the feeling. She is always determined to get “the shot,” and Arnold Schwarzenegger still jokes about flying through a blizzard in a helicopter, then nearly freezing to death for the 1997 Vanity Fair cover image of him on skis on a mountain top in Sun Valley, Idaho. She has already earned her lifetime achievement award at the age of 59 (to her dismay, actually.)

Getting a lifetime achievement award at 59 was a huge deal, but to her, it was as if the community was telling her that the last 40 years of her work were it, that those photos shot then were her best and nothing else would be better.

This is just a conjecture, but Annie’s perfectionism costs her a lot.  I totally and completely empathize, especially after reading what Andrew Eccles, one of her assistants, said: “She could never quite relax, because she was afraid that there was an even better idea… The anxiousness about whether a photograph was going to be good enough was hard to be around. It seemed like a difficult way to live.”

Gurl, I totally understand. And I bet a lot of people who are reading this understand, too. She has a lot of flaws, but she is one of the greatest photographers of our age.

Oh, btw, she had a relationship with Susan Sontag. NBD.

And that’s all for Annie Leibovitz. The next Photographer of the Day will be Man Ray, so keep an eye out!

Happy Shooting!

Photographer of the Day: Harold E. Edgerton

Harold E. Edgerton

b. 1903, d. 1990

The combination of the arts and sciences is something that seems relatively new, but, spoiler alert: it’s not. Also, next time someone tells you that we don’t need the arts, I want you to calmly point out Edgerton, and then lock them in an art gallery for a week.

Edgerton was one of those people who made you feel really, really insignificant, because he was so awesome. You know what I’m talking about. Dude was a professor of electrical engineering at MIT. And he did photography– like, c’mon man, what are you? I mean, he grew up in Nebraska, so he must have been bored, so maybe that’s why he’s good at everything.

So, you know those photos of like, water splashing or a bubble popping or an apple being massacred by a bullet? Edgerton and his buddy Gjon Mili (who we will discuss another day,) were the ones responsible for this. Mili used strobes for his work, and so Edgerton was like, “let me try this out, bro.”* These studio flash units could fire 120 flashes per second. Eddie here (just roll with me on the impromptu nickname,) used this to his advantage, because, c’mon of course you have a shot at capturing a bullet at 1/120th of a second (also did you see my pun?)

The apple is my self esteem and the bullet is Eddie’s work.

Something deep? These photos are oftentimes a dialogue about violence against the person. So, let’s drop some science and some tortured artist business in one go.

Eddie received awards from the Royal Photographic Society and Optical Society of America, among many other accolades. But, our friend Eddie here wasn’t done being a flippin’ genius. He and his other genius buddies developed the Rapatronic camera, photographed nuclear tests in the 50s and 60s, and then this dude was responsible for side-scan technology for scanning the ocean floor for stuff, because he was into that sort of thing. He was like, “Yo, Cousteau, I know you like explorin’ the sea and I too like the sea so here have some underwater photography equipment with a super nifty flash and go to town. Do it for me science, bro. For the science.”*

And just when you thought this man couldn’t get any cooler– he also won an Oscar for his short film, Quicker’n a Wink. Because he could.

The nice thing about Eddie is that he was a kind individual who loved teaching. “The trick to education,” he said, “is to teach people in such a way that they don’t realize they’re learning until it’s too late.” Can I have him as a professor? Because he sounds awesome.

That’s about it for Henry E. Edgerton, Papa Flash, the man who made time stand still (which is what he was dubbed by National Geographic– I’m telling you, this guy was unreal.) The next PotD will be Bernard Faucon.

Happy Shooting!

* These dialogues are totally fictional, but you never know, Eddie might have loved calling people “bro.”