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.
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.