The Talk with legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz

Photo Drew Altizer

Photo Drew Altizer

San Francisco Museum of Modern Arts Conservatory Vision Award celebrates the extraordinary achievements of global leaders - creators, innovators and change-makers and this week it honored legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz with the inaugural Contemporary Vision Award at the Historic Regency Ballroom in San Francisco. The evening chaired by Modern Art Council member Courtney C. Dallaire.

Annie Leibovitz is known for her trademark technique using bold primary colors and surprising poses. She photographed some of the most iconic figures in music, film, art and politics.  John Lennon, Queen Elizabeth, Demi Moore, George Bush and Michael Jackson. She is also known for her many controversial shoots such as 15 year old Miley Cyrus nude on the cover of Vanity Fair 2008.

In 1970, while a student at the San Francisco Art Institute, Annie Leibovitz began her career as a photojournalist for Rolling Stone.  Her first major assignment was shooting a cover story on John Lennon just hours before Lennon was murdered outside of the Dakota building in New York City. In 1973 Leibovitz became the magazine’s chief photographer.

Despite working on a large scale and known for being demanding, she remains a very down-to-earth and we are extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to ask Annie a few questions.

Rolling Stone cover featuring John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 1981 by Annie Leibovitz

Rolling Stone cover featuring John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 1981 by Annie Leibovitz

J: How do you get the person in front of the camera and onto the film in just the way you want it?

AL: There is homework to be done. You learn about the subject, you find out what they do,  you find out as much as you can about them and it's always good to go in with an idea or a plan that you know you are going to do. Always leave space for spontaneity in case something else happens. For the covers of Rolling Stones I had to make appointments with people, think about what it is I will do. I love photography and I admire people who do things well, I like to like people, I like to come at the portrait with an idea of what the person does rather than they are celebrity.

J: How do you feel about your very last photo you took of John Lennon and Yoko Ono kissing?

AL: It's actually an excellent example of how circumstances change a picture. Suddenly, that photograph has a story. You're looking at it and thinking it's their last kiss, or they're saying goodbye. You can make up all sorts of things about it. I think it's amazing when there's a lot of levels to a photograph."

Annie Leibovitz and Juliet Belkin at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco.

Annie Leibovitz and Juliet Belkin at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco.

J: In your 10 year Rolling Stone career, which celebrity was the most difficult to work with?

AL: It's usually not about the person. It could be a bad weather or a bad hair day. But in terms of entertainment people who have been in show business for a long time are usually most difficult to work with, people like Michael Jackson, Sammy Davis Junior.

The evening continued with an on-stage conversation between Annie Leibovitz and Nion McEvoy. SFMOMA director Neal Benezra honored the artist with SFMOMA Conservatory Vision Award.

“We are thrilled to be honoring Annie Leibovitz, an artist who launched her outstanding career right here in our city, at the San Francisco Art Institute,” said Neal.

Annie Leibovitz on stage with Nion McEvoy. Photo by Drew Altizer.

Annie Leibovitz on stage with Nion McEvoy. Photo by Drew Altizer.

 JOLIEGAZETTE team would like to thank SFMOMA for making us part of the evening honoring legendary Annie Leibovitz. Saturday, May 14, 2016 is the official opening date for the thoroughly transformed SFMOMA which will be 20,000 square feet larger than the Museum of Modern Art in New York. We are waiting in anticipation to experience museum expansion and the benefit it will serve to Bay Area community.

by Juliet Belkin