Annie Leibovitz, Photographer of Icons and Iconic Photographer, Profiled on American Masters

One must take care, when writ­ing about well-con­nect­ed cul­tur­al fig­ures, not to abuse the word icon­ic. But when one writes about the pho­tog­ra­ph­er Annie Lei­bovitz, one almost has to abuse it. Here we have a woman who took two of the most mem­o­rable pho­tos of John Lennon, col­lab­o­rat­ed (to the extent pos­si­ble) with Hunter S. Thomp­son, went on tour with the Rolling Stones, fol­lowed Richard Nixon out of the White House the last time he left it, con­vinced Whoopi Gold­berg to get into a bath­tub of milk, and loved Susan Son­tag. This whole post could­n’t pos­si­bly con­tain a com­plete list of her pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al involve­ment with the, yes, icons of twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry pop­u­lar cul­ture. Her por­traits of them became icons them­selves, which, in turn, made Lei­bovitz her­self icon­ic. For a visu­al­ly rich sense of the scope of her life and career, look no fur­ther than the doc­u­men­tary above, Life Through a Lens.

This 2008 pro­duc­tion comes from the PBS-dis­trib­uted Amer­i­can Mas­ters tele­vi­sion series, which we fea­tured on Tues­day. Direct­ed by Lei­bovitz’s own sis­ter and there­fore pos­sessed of the unusu­al famil­ial insight you’d expect, Life Through a Lens also includes a great many of the hard-to-inter­view lumi­nar­ies with­out which no pro­file of this pho­tog­ra­ph­er could be com­plete. We hear from Arnold Schwarzeneg­ger, Jann Wen­ner, Hillary Clin­ton, Glo­ria Steinem, Pat­ti Smith, Mick Jag­ger, Kei­th Richards, Bette Midler, Yoko Ono, and George Clooney, to name but a few of her admir­ers who’ve held their own at the busi­ness end of her cam­era. In the four years since this doc­u­men­tary, Lei­bovitz’s pho­tographs — now of 21st-cen­tu­ry celebri­ties like Miley Cyrus, Sasha Baron Cohen, Lady Gaga, Rihan­na, and LeBron James —  have con­tin­ued to impress in the pages of Vogue and Van­i­ty Fair. When­ev­er some­one ris­es toward icon­ic sta­tus, Annie Lei­bovitz’s visu­al imag­i­na­tion can’t be far behind.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch PBS’ Amer­i­can Mas­ters Doc­u­men­taries (Includ­ing Scorsese’s Homage to Kazan) Free Online

Alfred Stieglitz: The Elo­quent Eye, a Reveal­ing Look at “The Father of Mod­ern Pho­tog­ra­phy”

1972 Diane Arbus Doc­u­men­tary Inter­views Those Who Knew the Amer­i­can Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Best

Hen­ri Carti­er-Bres­son and the Deci­sive Moment

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.


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