Annie Leibovitz (born October 2, 1949) is an American portrait photographer. She photographed John Lennon on the day he was assassinated, and her work has been used on numerous album covers and magazines. She became the first woman to hold an exhibition at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery in 1991.
Born in Waterbury, Connecticut, on October 2, 1949, Anna-Lou Leibovitz is the third of six children of Marilyn Edith (née Heit) and Samuel Leibovitz. She is a third-generation American; her father’s parents were Romanian Jews. Her mother was a modern dance instructor of Estonian-Jewish heritage. Her father was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force. The family moved frequently with her father’s duty assignments, and she took her first pictures when he was stationed in the Philippines during the Vietnam War. She took photographs around the military base and of nearby locals. Leibovitz’s passion of art was born out of her mother’s engagement with dance, music, and painting.
At Northwood High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, she became interested in various artistic endeavors and began to write and play music. She attended the San Francisco Art Institute, where she studied painting with the intention of becoming an art teacher. At school, she had her first photography workshop and changed her major after to photography. She was inspired by the work of Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson, which her school taught about. For several years, she continued to develop her photography skills while holding various jobs, including a stint on a kibbutz in Amir, Israel, for several months in 1969.
When Leibovitz returned to the United States in 1970, she started her career as staff photographer, working for Rolling Stone magazine. In 1973, publisher Jann Wenner named Leibovitz chief photographer of Rolling Stone, a job she would hold for 10 years. Leibovitz worked for the magazine until 1983, and her intimate photographs of celebrities helped define the Rolling Stone look.
While working for Rolling Stone, Leibovitz learned that she could work for magazines and still create personal work of her family which for her was the most important. “You don’t get the opportunity to do this kind of intimate work except with the people you love, the people who will put up with you. They’re the people who open their hearts and souls and lives to you. You must take care of them.”
She was awarded The Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography in 2009.
Leibovitz photographed the Rolling Stones in San Francisco in 1971 and 1972, and served as the concert-tour photographer for the Rolling Stones’ Tour of the Americas ’75. Her favorite photo from the tour was a photo of Mick Jagger in an elevator.
On December 8, 1980, Leibovitz had a photo shoot with John Lennon for Rolling Stone, and she promised him he would make the cover. She had initially tried to get a picture with just Lennon alone, as Rolling Stone wanted, but Lennon insisted that both he and Yoko Ono be on the cover. Leibovitz then tried to re-create something like the kissing scene from the couple’s Double Fantasy 1980 album cover, a picture Leibovitz loved, and she had John remove his clothes and curl up next to Yoko on the floor. Leibovitz recalls, “What is interesting is she said she’d take her top off and I said, ‘Leave everything on’—not really preconceiving the picture at all. Then he curled up next to her and it was very, very strong. You couldn’t help but feel that he was cold and he looked like he was clinging on to her. I think it was amazing to look at the first Polaroid and they were both very excited. John said, ‘You’ve captured our relationship exactly. Promise me it’ll be on the cover.’ I looked him in the eye and we shook on it.” Leibovitz was the last person to professionally photograph Lennon—he was shot and killed five hours later.
The photograph was subsequently re-created in 2009 by John and Yoko’s son Sean Lennon, posing with his girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl, with male/female roles reversed (Sean clothed, Kemp naked), and by Henry Bond and Sam Taylor-Wood in their YBA pastiche October 26, 1993.
In 2011, Leibovitz was nominated alongside Singaporean photographer Dominic Khoo and Wing Shya for Asia Pacific Photographer of the Year.