As Annie Leibovitz awaits the release of her new book, Wonderland, she wants to clarify something. She is not a fashion photographer.
Annie Leibovitz’s is one of the top portrait photographers in the world. Her work is artful, enchanting, and theatrical, with a masterful use of colour. She is a natural-born storyteller with an ability to wholly consume one’s attention with her visual art.
Leibovitz studied at the San Francisco Art Institute where she majored in photography, inspired by the gritty and impulsive style of Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson. She had little desire to rival the fashion photographers like Helmut Newton and Irving Penn, despite appreciating their work. “I thought fashion was silly,” she said. Although it wasn’t long before Leibovitz found herself in the category anyway.
She began her career as a photojournalist for the Rolling Stones, where she captured some of the time’s most memorable and iconic photos. Naked John Lennon curled around his lover Yoko Ono is one of her most famous images. After fifteen years at Vanity Fair, Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour approached her about working for Vogue Magazine. This was in 1998 and began her 23-year stint working for the publication. Any reservations that Leibovitz may have had heading into fashion went away with the “awe” she felt during her first photoshoot with the magazine. She described it as being “like performance art”.
The story of Wonderland
It was lockdown that sowed the seeds for Leibovitz’s new book of fashion images, Wonderland, a take on Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. A year-long quarantine with her daughters resurrected the memories of the days she used to read them the famous tale. She explains how Alice sought the answer to “Who in the world am I?” when confronting characters along her journey. With the photo essay, Leibovitz prodded the same question, only through the lens of fashion.
The book casts fashion designers as its characters including Tom Ford as White Rabbit, Marc Jacobs as the Caterpillar and John Galliano as the Queen of Hearts. The body of work is arguably some of her best to date.
It could be her objectivity to fashion that makes her work so unique. Or maybe the relentless and ruthless effort she puts into every picture. Whatever it is, her work is nothing short of astonishing.
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