The start of 2019 was like no other new year for me. After an entire month devoted to caring for my love, I was ready and invigorated to get back out in the world and do some stuff. Being offered the documentarian position for the Downtown Yoga & Wellness Co-op and starting this blog completely revved my engine and I was off to the races. In the months that have followed, I’ve found more delight and intrigue in activities and events than ever.
Tonight, with my dear friend Laura by my side, I heard Annie Leibovitz speak at UNLV as part of the annual Barrick Lecture Series, featuring nationally and internationally known guest lecturers. In the first few moments she started to speak, I could hardly breathe I was so excited. Here was a woman who has been an iconic photographer for nearly five decades, having photographed everyone from Sting to the Queen of England, some 15 rows away from me, talking about her career and her life. She started her professional career as a staff photographer for Rolling Stone Magazine when I was entering 4th grade. She was invited by Mick Jagger to be the concert photographer for the Rolling Stones’ Tour of the Americas in 1975. The list of individuals who have been the subject of her photography goes on and on. Her speaking style is easy, reading some parts from a written page, to digressing momentarily to relate an anecdote about a particular subject or shoot. At times she speaks softly and has a sly, almost indiscernible sense of humor.
Her accompanying slideshow of past photographs were impressive, inspiring, and at times, surprising. She told us of coming to Las Vegas in 1996 with the intention to do a photo shoot with showgirls. The initial photograph of the first showgirl was breathtaking; topless and bedecked in a gold g-string and topped off with a massive headdress, she was beautiful. On the first day of the photo shoot, the showgirl scheduled to be photographed showed up sans makeup and feathers. It immediately changed the focus Leibovitz had planned for the article, and when it ran in the New Yorker, the photographs had the four showgirls in their full costumes contrasted to their regular non-work personas. Three were married and two had children. The photos side by side on the big screen were striking in the differences. It “humanized” the showgirls.
So many of Leibovitz’ photographs are famous for more than one reason. I’ve always loved the starkness of the John Lennon and Yoko Ono photograph that ended up on the cover of the January 22, 1981 issue of Rolling Stone. Leibovitz was the last to professionally photograph Lennon; he was shot and killed five hours after their photo session.
All the while she was photographing celebrities, she continued to include her family in her body of work; first her parents and siblings, then her significant other, Susan Sontag, and most recently, her three children. Her “A Photographer’s Life” hardcover spanning 15 years includes many personal, intimate photographs of her family as well as celebrities.
I love photography. It inspires me. It excites me. I set my “big girl” camera down three years ago when it became too painful for me to be in that space. But I never stopped taking pictures with my camera phone. The desire to capture an image, to frame it, to light it – it’s still there. Listening to Annie Leibovitz talk about her many experiences with photography only heightened a resurgence of interest and desire to pick up a camera once again.