A Portraitist's Candid Retrospective

Annie Leibovitz headshot, photographer, 2006 CBS/AP

Annie Leibovitz has photographed some of the world's most famous people. She took the photos of Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and their daughter Suri for the cover of Vanity Fair. But now some of her life's most intimate moments are on display in New York's Brooklyn Museum and in a new book.

Leibovitz said that she's more of an accidental instigator than an artist. She said she searches for depth in a seemingly superficial cultural landscape. It's this quality that has made Leibovitz a celebrated portrait photographer known for her outrageous settings and elaborate productions.

"In the work I do, there is glamour, and glamour is beautiful," she told Sunday Morning correspondent Troy Roberts.

For 37 years, Leibovitz's vision of popular and political icons has become fixed in the national consciousness. Her work doesn't toe the line; it actually moves the line. Take the image of a pregnant Demi Moore that ran on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991.

"Demi and I certainly had no idea what it meant," she said. "We thought it was glamorous, really. And now you look at it and you know we don't think, you really don't think twice. I mean, women really do walk around very proud to be pregnant."

Leibovitz took a photo of herself when she was pregnant with her first child at age 51. That simple portrait, along with other personal moments in the private life of the previously very-private Leibovitz, mingles with her glossy professional work in her new book, "A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005." These are part of the display at the Brooklyn museum.

"I think on some level we all want to be understood and that would be nice, but strangely enough, I feel like it's hit a chord with a lot of people and I am finding it a very beautiful moving reaction to the work," she said. "We're just looking for a sense of reality and what really matters, what's important — you know, family, love, going back to those things that create our foundation."

Leibovitz says her foundation includes her relationships and experiences with her mother and father, her three young daughters, and with award-winning writer Susan Sontag, who died of leukemia nearly two years ago. Leibovitz has resisted defining her relationship with Sontag.

"There's not really a word," Leibovitz said, "like 'partner' or 'companion.' Susan was a private person. She had her own apartment. I had my apartment but we were there for each other."

Just six weeks after Sontag's death, Leibovitz's father also died. To help cope with her grief, Leibovitz said she found herself pouring over photographs. At the same time, she also had a commitment to compile a 15-year retrospective of her work for a book.

"I remember very distinctly just waking up a couple of mornings later and saying, 'Oh my gosh, 1990 to 2005 are really the years that I knew Susan,'" Leibovitz said. "And it sent shivers up and down my spine. It just gave me this strength and this interest to look at these years as if she was there with me, standing over me telling me what to put in and what not to put in."

The collection, true to Leibovitz's style, pushes the limits, this time blurring private and public lines with images of her loved ones during some of the most promising times (like the births of her twin daughters by surrogate) and the most painful episodes (during the illnesses and deaths of her father and of Sontag).
  • Caitlin Johnson

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