American photography legend Annie Leibovitz wants her most recent book, “Annie Leibovitz at Work,” to serve as a teaching mechanism for young photographers. We asked Leibovitz to teach us a few things.
She spoke with Hatchet Arts on Monday from her San Francisco hotel room. See her at Politics and Prose in D.C. Tuesday, Dec. 9 at 7 p.m.
What does this book say that other works you released have not?
I’ve always wanted to do a book on the making of photographs because I want to somewhere down the line be able to teach . It really is geared toward a young me – or a young photographer – who might be interested in doing this kind of work, and trying to demystify the whole idea of what I do and talk about it in more concrete terms.
In the prologue of the book you mentioned that at Rolling Stone you didn’t face concerns over editorial control of content. This perhaps is not the case for younger photographers working at magazines today. What advice do you offer them in light of this?
We all face control over our content now, and the reality is that we work for someone else. I’d like to think that is part of the tension or the battle of a work. I mention, if you look at the section on publishing history, that the pure work is really the book; you have an opportunity to edit the work the way you want to. What’s important is to make sure that you’re doing something that you’re interested in and that you care about, whether it’s a person or a subject or a story. What’s great about photography right now is there are a lot of different outlets. You can follow a subject or story and publish it on the Internet. You could do your own book; you could make a small book.
Is there a central mistake that young photographers make or maybe one that you’ve made that could lend for some advice?
If you’re looking for work with a magazine or a newspaper, to go in and expect them to assign you something is a mistake. It’s better to work from your end – something that you care about – and bring that work in. And I think that art directors would like to see more of that work: what you care about. They like to see that you care, whether or not that work gets published. They might then go ahead and give you an assignment.
You mention throughout the book that as a photographer or artist you should constantly be self-questioning or “feeling guilt” about different things you are doing. Is there any work you’ve done that you feel as though you’ve regretted?
(Laughs) Oh, tons of it, sure. Every day. I’m very happy with my work – as happy as a tortured person can be. I was trying to (in the book) set up all the parameters that give the work its tension – and it’s the tension that makes it work. It might be, “Is this too flattering?” or “Does this mean anything?” or “Is this exposed badly?” or something. (Laughs) It’s just nonstop. You’re constantly fighting everything and trying to make something that you like and you care about. It’s work.
You speak about shooting for reporters like Hunter Thompson or Tom Wolfe and how they were closed-off and this ended up working as an advantage for you.
Hunter was a star . and as I said, everyone fell in love with him and when he went out on the road it was exciting and you’d want to be with him, but you couldn’t be with him. He was going and doing his thing, doing his work. I thought I would have the opportunity to be with him, but he pushed me away, basically, and it was the best thing that ever happened because I found my own way. It was a good thing. Now I find it very important to have my own time with the subject.
A best way to get noticed as a photographer?
Spend some time on things you really care about. Then bring that in to show someone. I think I was lucky to have worked at Rolling Stone for those years before moving to New York. I just had a chance to develop outside of New York City . I was also trying to show is how much latitude there is in photography. You know how many different ways you can use photography. It’s a great medium.