Both Yousuf Karsh and Arnold Newman have rightfully earned their place among the legends of photographic portraiture for their ground-breaking work. Their images continue to be a source of inspiration for this generation's professional photographers. On the other hand, new generations of portrait photographers have to look for a fresh source of inspiration for today's digital age. Fortunately, they don't have to look far in order to see the works of commercial photographer and portraitist Annie Leibovitz.
Annie Leibovitz has actually been featured on this blog twice: once for her outstanding group portraits and again for her beautiful portraits of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. However, such is the quality of her talent that she deserves another feature for her other equally brilliant portraits.
Leibovitz began her career as a staff photographer for Rolling Stone magazine in 1970, which was then just starting out. Leibovitz used a documentary-style of photography akin to Henri-Cartier Bresson who was one of her inspirations at that time. Her first photographers were far from the look that she is famous for now; back then, she would get candid and more intimate shots of celebrities, although she had already begun to become more personal with her subjects, something she still does to this day.
Leibovitz's most iconic photograph during her time with Rolling Stone was the image of a naked John Lennon kissing and embracing a fully clothed Yoko Ono. This cover image was a collaboration between the two artists and the photographer as all of them composed the shot as the session went along. This was the last photograph of Lennon alive as he died from a gunshot only hours after this photo shoot.
After 13 years with Rolling Stone, Leibovitz moved to Vanity Fair magazine with which she still works with today along with other Condé Nast Publications. By then, she had begun to form her trademark photographic portrait style. She reached new heights of fame when she photographed a naked and very pregnant Demi Moore for the magazine's cover. The image caused a scandal when it was published in 1991 and even now is referenced in many pop culture works.
Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson posing nude with Tom Ford to her recreations of classic Disney fairy tales to a portrait of President Barack Obama and his family in the White House. Lately, many of her legendary production shoots which look like movie sets and cost almost as much although the price is worth it when one sees the resulting images.
Leibovitz continues to be an inspiration for many aspiring photographers around the world, and even now in her 60s, there doesn't seem to be any sign of her slowing down.
Annie Leibovitz doesn't have a personal website yet, but you can check out much of her latest work over at her Vanity Fair page. You can also check out the Reel Foto's previous features on the master portraitist here (focusing on her group portraits) and here (focusing on her Queen Elizabeth II portrait). Leibovitz describes her photographic life so far in her book, Annie Leibovitz at Work. Some of her more famous portraits are collected in A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005. Finally, check out what it takes to become a master portraitist like her in the video documentary Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens.