Annie Leibovitz – At Work (2008) // Book Review

 My father, who was recently in London and wandering through Waterstone’s bought me a book I had been wanting to read for quite some time now, Annie Leibovitz’  At Work.
I know it’s not new, although it isn’t old, so this isn’t the first review about the book, but it’s a book I took quite some time reading, to try and fully understand and imerge myself in her world. The book isn’t a detailed manuscript of her technical skills, neither is it a resumé of her complete work, it’s more in the area of a inquiry into her past, and into her career as a whole, an entity.

complete review after the equator…

She starts the book off by telling us how she initially got into photography, how her family members were her first subjects and how she climbed Mt.Fuji and how this relates to being a photographer as a whole.

It starts off with a young Leibovitz that just got her first camera, a Minolta SR-T 101 and how this affected her life as a teen, growing up on the road everywhere and nowhere. Annie, who originally wanted to study art, to become an art teacher in San Fransisco tells us later on how she enrolled at Rolling Stone magazine, which was just starting out at that time, how she got on tour with the Rolling Stones and how that affected her as a photographer.

There isn’t a whole lot of technical jibberish in her texts, which leads us to an easy read, and makes this book not only a book about photography (which it remains though, don’t worry) but also a book about creative inspiration, and having a certain vision as an artist, and overcoming the difficulties attached to having such a defined artistic vision.

After the introduction, which is mainly about her family and the people who influenced her the most like Cartier-Bresson she goes on telling us about some of the most iconic portraits she shot during her career. There’s John Lennon’s Rolling Stone cover, photographer only a few hours before he was shot to death, there’s Whoopi Goldberg’s famous milk photograph, Demi Moore’s nude maternity cover,  there’s a section about shooting fashion, which was something she thought would never do, like advertising photography. Once again, she doesn’t flood us with technical details, but in stead she tells us how she got the inspiration for those covers, because as you’ll learn by the end of the book, you can have the best equipment in the world, the most expensive bodies, the clearest lenses and the fastest film, photography without imagination is meaningless and quickly forgotten.

About halfway through the book, she takes you on a tour of some timeless shoots she’s done all over the world. There’s a section about hollywood, and actors she’s shot, there’s just a whole lot.

For those interested in technical stuff, the end of the book covers some ground in that direction, where she talks about the advantages of full frame cameras, certain types of camera’s, lighting,props, assistants and so on, but she doesn’t go into detail once again. And that’s alright, because this book completely isn’t about that. It’s about being inspired as a photographer, and not doing things the way they ought to most of the time.

Leibovitz has encountered quite some criticism lately, mainly due to the fact that she’s apparantely in financial troubles. She recently borrowed 15,5 million dollars for unknown reasons and used the copyight to all her photographs as collateral. This is something most people can’t understand, and I have to say that I’m on the same page. When you’re an artist as accomplished as she is, you don’t put yourself in a position where you could potentially end up losing it all. Off course, we don’t know her reasons so it’s not our place to judge her.

Despite all this criticism, her work is undisputed. She is one of the biggest photographers of our time, and if you take the time to look at her career, and her work in general (except this book) you’ll know why. When she photographs something, she doesn’t just photography it, she gives it a soul. It becomes reality in some way, and starts leading it’s own life. It’s amazing what she can do with a 2 dimensional piece of paper.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely ! It’s not a guide to photography, but it’s a great source of inspiration for those days where you think you’re at the end of the line. It’s a trigger for you to start being creative, and stand out of the pack. I recommend the DVD ‘Life Through a Lens’, which is a documentary about her, where you’ll also be able to see her working behind the scenes on shoots, and where she talks a little bit more about shooting itself.

Anyways, definitely a must-read for every aspiring or acknowledged photographer.



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