Annie Leibovitz’s large and distinguished body of work encompasses some of the most well-known portraits of our time. She has photographed a wide array of subjects ranging from presidents and queens to rock stars, athletes and ordinary people. Leibovitz is widely regarded as the major chronicler of twentieth-century culture.
Anna-Lou Leibovitz was born in Waterbury, Conn., on October 2, 1949, the third of six children born to Marilyn and Sam Leibovitz. Her mother studied modern dance with Martha Graham and was a dance instructor while her father worked in a rubber mill until he joined the Air Force during World War II. Due to her father’s military career, the family moved often. It was during this time that Leibovitz began to view the world through a lens, first through the window of the car which she came to understand as a frame, and later through the photographic lens as she began to document their travels. Leibovitz has fond memories of returning to Waterbury throughout her childhood to visit her grandparents.
In 1967, Leibovitz enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute with the intent to study painting. During her second year, she signed up for a night class in photography, and shortly thereafter changed her major, finding photography better suited to her personality because of its speed and realism. In 1970, while still a student, Leibovitz submitted photographs of anti-war rallies in San Francisco and Berkeley to Rolling Stone. One of her photos was selected for the cover of a special issue on campus riots and protests, and she was offered a job as a staff photographer. Leibovitz graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1971, and by 1973 she was Rolling Stone’s chief photographer.
During her time at Rolling Stone, Leibovitz created a striking number of iconic photographs and established herself both as the nation’s foremost rock music photographer and as an astute documentarian of the social landscape. Some of her most famous Rolling Stone photos include an eight-page spread of photos from President Richard Nixon’s resignation, Mick Jagger’s international tour, and a photo of a naked John Lennon curled around his fully clothed wife, Yoko Ono, which was taken just five hours prior to Lennon’s death in 1980. Within ten years, Leibovitz’s photos graced the cover of 142 issues of Rolling Stone.
Seeking to diversify her subject matter, Leibovitz left Rolling Stone in 1983 and joined the staff of Vanity Fair. Well-known portraits from her time at Vanity Fair include Demi Moore nude and pregnant and Whoopi Goldberg half submerged in a bathtub of milk. Also in 1983, she published her first book, Annie Leibovitz Photographs, which compiled many of the celebrity portraits she had taken over the first portion of her career. In addition to her editorial work, Leibovitz has also created several influential advertising campaigns, including her award-winning portraits for American Express and the Gap.
In 1991, her first museum show, Photographs: Annie Leibovitz 1970-1990, opened at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and toured internationally for six years. Based on a book by the same title, the exhibition marked the first time a living female artist was featured in an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Since then, Leibovitz has exhibited at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and many others.
Leibovitz began working at Vogue in 1998and continued to produce books to showcase her photography. At Vanity Fair, and later at Vogue, her work with actors, directors, writers, musicians, athletes, and political and business figures, as well as her fashion photographs, expanded her collective portrait of contemporary life.
In 1999, Leibovitz published Women, a collaboration with her long-time partner Susan Sontag. Women features the portraits of over 200 women from all walks of life, from celebrities and Supreme Court Justices to Las Vegas showgirls and coal miners. As Leibovitz explained, the book explores questions like, “Who are we? What do we look like? What do we look like today? You know, it’s an endless project. I started it and it doesn’t stop with that book, I mean, it just continues.”
A Photographer’s Life 1990-2005 was published in 2005 and features personal, intimate photographs, including Leibovitz’s family. Her most recent book, Pilgrimage, includes photos of places, objects and rooms that have a special personal significance for the photographer. One object Leibovitz selected for inclusion in this work is fellow Inductee Marian Anderson’s performance dress housed at the Danbury Museum in Danbury, Conn.
Annie Leibovitz is the recipient of many honors. In 2006, she was decorated a Commandeur in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. In 2009, she received the International Center of Photography’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the American Society of Magazine Editors’ first Creative Excellence Award, and the Centenary Medal of the Royal Photographic Society in London. Leibovitz has also been designated a Living Legend by the Library of Congress. She lives in New York with her children and continues to chronicle American culture, adding to her already immense and impressive body of work.
In 2019, a retrospective of her work was on display at an exhibition titled "Annie Lievovitz. The Early Years, 1970-1982: Archive Project No. 1" at Hauser & Wirth gallery in Los Angeles.
During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice
Feminism in the late 1960s was aided by President Kennedy, who formed the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, and his successor, President Johnson, who backed passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Difficulties in implementing the law through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) led a group of women in 1966 to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), demanding “action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now.”
A younger group called for a more radical approach to social change than simply considering what was possible to achieve politically. “Women’s liberation” demanded freedom without limitation. Some took part in consciousness-raising groups, others demonstrated against the Miss America pageant, and many discussed their expectations of mutual enjoyment of sex. They established rape crisis centers, domestic shelters, and women’s studies programs. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act also increased pressure on universities to hire more women faculty and expand the number of female college athletes. Activist protest among gays and lesbians, such as the Stonewall Riot, symbolized this group’s potential to resist oppression.
Under pressure, many states repealed legislation prohibiting abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized its availability to women in Roe v. Wade. Also in 1973, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA, and states began its ratification.
Yet, dissension arose in the ranks of the movement, as it had earlier after passage of the 19th amendment. Feminists disagreed as to whether pornography should be banned or protected as a form of free speech, and whether lesbian identities should be kept secret or disclosed. Black women were more concerned with poverty and welfare in their communities than with personal career advancement; for them, sterilization abuse was more important than abortion, and they were deeply insulted by attacks on the African American family as matriarchal and dysfunctional.
A backlash was growing in the 1970s, along with a New Right in politics. The ERA was defeated and opposition to abortion increased. Conflicts between pro-life and pro-choice candidates have impacted every presidential campaign since then.
Still, gains have been made in many areas. From 1960 to 2000, increasing numbers of women sought entry to higher education, and bachelor’s degrees awarded to them increased from forty to sixty percent. Definitions of marriage have changed, as when courts gave full rights and responsibilities and the name of marriage to same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in 2008. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 highlighted concern about sexual harassment on the job, and the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC have increased, as have judgments in favor of the women. Finally, in 2009, women crossed the fifty percent threshold and became the majority of the American workforce. Once largely confined to repetitive manual jobs, now they are running organizations that once treated them as second-class citizens.
The Women’s Movement has changed women’s lives, influenced the economy, and made debate about their roles, family life, and sexual conventions central to national politics and American history.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.