Watch Annie Leibovitz Photograph and Get Scolded by Queen Elizabeth: “What Do You Think This Is?”

No mat­ter how many cul­tur­al icons you’ve met, Annie Lei­bovitz has almost cer­tain­ly met more of them. Not only has she met them, she’s talked with them, spent long stretch­es of time with them, told them what to do, and even looked into the nature of their very being — which is to say, she’s pho­tographed them. Hav­ing put in her crosshairs the likes of John Lennon, Michael Jack­son, Christo­pher Hitchens, and Barack Oba­ma, one would assume Lei­bovitz has lost entire­ly the abil­i­ty to be intim­i­dat­ed by any per­son­age, no mat­ter how august. But then, she did­n’t have to address any of the afore­men­tioned fig­ures as “Your Majesty.”

“Back in 2007, Lei­bovitz was hired to shoot a set of por­traits of the Queen at Buck­ing­ham Palace in prepa­ra­tion for a state vis­it to the Unit­ed States,” writes Petapix­el’s Michael Zhang. “The pho­tog­ra­ph­er and her 11 assis­tants spent 3 weeks prepar­ing for the 30-minute pho­to shoot.” For the Queen’s part, prepa­ra­tion includ­ed “the full regalia of the ancient Order of the Garter, com­plete with tiara,” putting on all of which took 15 min­utes longer than planned.

But when she got the Queen seat­ed, Lei­bovitz — per­haps fig­ur­ing that, if a casu­al man­ner works with pop stars and pres­i­dents, it might work even bet­ter with roy­al­ty — sug­gest­ed that “it will look bet­ter with­out the crown.” It would look bet­ter, she sug­gest­ed, “less dressy.” “Less dressy?” the Queen snaps back in a kind of irri­tat­ed aston­ish­ment. “What do you think this is?”

Lei­bovitz, to her cred­it, remains unfazed, even when informed that the tiara can’t go back on once it’s been tak­en off. You can see it hap­pen in the Dutch TV clip above, which takes its footage from the BBC doc­u­men­tary A Year with the Queen. Despite the pres­sure, the por­traits came out well, as did the sec­ond series Lei­bovitz shot of the Queen in 2016. These more recent pho­tographs were tak­en under less strict con­di­tions. “I was told how relaxed she was at Wind­sor, and it was real­ly true,” says Lei­bovitz in the accom­pa­ny­ing Van­i­ty Fair sto­ry. “You get the sense of how at peace she was with her­self, and very much enthralled with her fam­i­ly.” At the Queen’s request, the pic­tures includ­ed her fam­i­ly mem­bers both human and cor­gi, all arranged accord­ing to her own ideas. If she tires of her cur­rent job, she may have a promis­ing future in por­trait pho­tog­ra­phy ahead of her.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Annie Lei­bovitz Teach­es Pho­tog­ra­phy in Her First Online Course

NASA Enlists Andy Warhol, Annie Lei­bovitz, Nor­man Rock­well & 350 Oth­er Artists to Visu­al­ly Doc­u­ment America’s Space Pro­gram

A Very Brief His­to­ry of Roy­al Wed­dings

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Laura C says:

    Say­ing the Queen was scold­ing is tak­ing what she said out of con­text. In response to Lei­bovitz indi­cat­ing tak­ing the crown off would make the look less “dressy”, the Queen not­ed, “What do you think THIS is?” indi­cat­ing her robes and oth­er regalia, mean­ing she was going to look “dressy” with or with­out the crown.

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