For anyone who has ever admired the work of Annie Leibovitz, this documentary from 2007 is a must see. Filmed and directed by her sister Barbara, it’s a professional retrospective that eventually makes way for personal and touching reflections about her family and her relationship with the late Susan Sontag. Filled with interviews with Leibovitz, and those around her through the years, the film gives insight into her career as she photographed many of the most famous people in the world. Her images have become legendary – from Whoopi Goldberg in the bathtub full of milk to a pregnant Demi Moore standing naked and embracing her full stomach. Perhaps her most memorable photo was the one she captured in 1980 of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their New York City apartment, just hours before his murder.
In a time when celebrities didn’t Tweet what they ate for lunch or make reality shows of their lives, Leibovitz’s early photos seemed to give a look into their lives behind the scenes. In the documentary we get a glimpse into what the process was like for Leibovitz herself. It’s interesting to hear how she struggled as an artist, her feelings of not being creative, and her respect for more experienced photographers like Bea Feitler and Richard Avedon. In the early days she often felt that her settings were obvious, but she explains her thought process and it’s clear that she still wanted to capture something unique and innate about the subject themselves, regardless of what setting they were in.
As her career progressed, the creativity and complexity that went in to each photoshoot increased tremendously. I was surprised to hear how much she hasn’t liked shooting the covers for Vanity Fair, because she finds them so heavily orchestrated and glamorous, and she likens them to advertisements. Her real pride, it seems, has been in the images that haven’t made it to famous covers – the less staged photos where everyone didn’t have to look perfect yet somehow did in their own way, and in which she executed her true vision and dream as a photographer.