Friday, March 4, 2011

Annie Leibovitz: Three is not a Crowd


Annie Leibovitz is one of the most sought after portrait artists today. Starting as a staff photographer for what was to become Rolling Stone magazine, she quickly developed a non-intrusive yet intimate style of photography which is evident in here more recent work, including her Vanity Fair photographs.

As she grew in experience, she became more daring and creative in her work, and her reputation steadily grew throughout the decades. Today, Ms. Leibovitz is known for her unique and sometimes controversial portraits (you can see her posing beside one of those controversial pictures, the portrait of a nude and pregnant Demi Moore in the early 90's).

From Hollywood to the White House, she's the go-to gal for celebrity portraits, and has become a Hollywood personality herself because of her consistently outstanding work and often lavish photo shoot productions. Her recent financial troubles regarding a multi-million dollar loan and the rights to all her photographs graced many entertainment headlines, and made her even more of a celebrity.

While you'll find a great deal of her work dealing with very striking solo portraits, I think her group photographs are a class apart and deserve special recognition. She is a master at group portraiture, making it seem like the most difficult subjects and settings are easy to photograph. Take for example the photograph below of former president George W. Bush and some members of his administration:


Regardless of what you may think of Mr. Bush, the picture itself is excellent. All the senior members are posed exactly right for this photo shoot; everyone sits, stands or leans confidently with a firm gaze towards the viewer. Mr. Bush's relaxed pose strikes a perfect balance against his colleagues' more formal stance, while at the same time exudes an impression befitting the Office of the President.

What I look forward most each year from Ms. Leibovitz is her series of group portraits featuring some of Hollywood's celebrities for Vanity Fair's Hollywood issue.

Below is one of those photographs, used as the cover for Vanity Fair's Hollywood Issue 2001:

 At first glance, the group portrait is perfectly balanced. All the ladies are neatly posed in smaller groups of three, and layer each other in different levels of postures: some are leaning, some are sitting and some are standing, with no single person stealing the whole show. It does strike me that some of the their poses seem a bit awkward if you focus on only one actress, but they complement each other very well as a group.

This next one is from 2008 and featured the upcoming actresses of that time:


Again, you can see the same kind of arresting quality between the 2008 and 2001 photos. Everyone has their own place, and your eyes travel from one celebrity to another in a relatively equal fashion. You can also see how a carefully chosen color palette can affect the mood of the picture: it's elegant and at the same time quiet.

This last picture is one of my favorites and is from 2010:



Even with everyone seated or laid down on the lawn, there are different levels and sets among the group that balance the entire picture. It's as if this was an impromptu photo taken at a picnic, yet it's clearly planned and organized. The artificial lighting used also complements the sunlight well and doesn't draw attention away from the natural beauty of the girls. As with the previous photos, the colors are amazingly well thought out and draw your attention to the entirety of the group.

These are the kinds of photos that keep me inspired in my trade. I'm nowhere near as talented Ms. Leibovitz is at lighting and portraiture, but her style is something I would like to emulate in the future.

If anyone wants to learn more about Annie Leibovitz and these Vanity Fair group shots, I highly recommend the PBS documentary Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens.  A recent collection of her more recent works can found in her book A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005. A very good read describing her photography style can be found in Annie Leibovitz at Work.



40 comments:

Anton Nuemus said...

wow
the pictures are so strange, but also they got somethiing magical...

baxxman said...

Thanks for the documentary, have been searching so long
Baxxmans

ankmanpro said...

Oh wow, nice commentary!

Burger said...

Cool post!

serious_nonsense said...

thanks for posting, keep it up =)

Triper said...

MMM nice womans :)

Freek said...

Wow, that group photo with the Bush administration is... very refreshing. It's strange to see them as basically photo models. Rumsfeld looks like a badass.

las3R said...

Hmm nice blog, as i'm interested in photography myself. Keep up the great work!

G said...

great detailed post - following

FrenchNeo said...

Wow, lot of girl here xD
Following xD

rndmg123 said...

great pics!

tearinox said...

interesting stuff. following

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Grafted said...

Beautiful pictures

Jay.CA said...

thanks for all the comments. :)

Anonymous. said...

cool pix.

Meghan Moran said...

awesome to get a better understanding how much planning goes into the pictures in order to give the sense of it being a semi-candid shot.

Break said...

COol post and pics :P

Epicycle said...

Beautiful captures. Great blog! following

Tasos said...

nice post...a bit long though

Malkavian said...

Cool man, you explained to me things that where evident yet i didnt payed attention to. Nice blog

p said...

wow I really like those pictures!! Nice blog, Ill follow and support you :D

pv said...

ahh the rich and powerful all in one picture

Chris said...

I just bought a Nikon D40 myself. Will definitely pick up some useful tips in your blog.

Shutterbug said...

I love the photo spreads in Vanity Fair! They always do good work. :)

Raw said...

Thanks for the advice, I think you're right.
I love your blog, looking forward to reading more!

Garth said...

great pictures, love the blog.

The Game Store Guy said...

Wow. A truly talented photographer. I'm very impressed with the Bush photo, most of all.

LOB said...

Those pictures are cool. Your analysis helps points out things I wouldn't have noticed looking at them myself.

rinns said...

Amazing photo's and great analysis. I think it's great that you can put your thoughts into words so easily. It's funny because while looking at these photo's I was subconsciously thinking all the same things about it, but if someone was to ask me "What do you think of the photo?" I would just reply "I really like it" without being able to explain why.

Great blog, following.

obi said...

great stuff thanks for following ;)
very interesting post.

PvtCarlin said...

Good analysis sir! I wouldn't have the patience to deal with organizing a rowdy crowd like this.

Steven said...

Interesting. Thanks

GFTM said...

really good shots here! +follow

JFoster said...

Very comprehensive write-up, interesting stuff. Following :)

Bubi said...

nice picture!
+following

Sam said...

Nice pics, love the design of the website.

Assange No.1 Fan said...

Dat first pic.

Raini said...

nice post

Clarence Miller said...

following and $upporting

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Lhosreiff said...

Nice poses and great atmosphere. I love them!

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