Anna-Lou “Annie” Leibovitz was born in Waterbury, Connecticut on the 2nd of October 1949 as the third of six children. Her mother, Marilyn Edith, née Heit, was a modern dance instructor of Estonian Jewish heritage; her father, Samuel Leibovitz, 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.
In high school, 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. For several years, she continued to develop her photography skills while working various jobs. Photographers such as Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson influenced her during this time. “Their style of personal reportage – taken in a graphic way – was what we were taught to emulate.”
When Leibovitz returned to the United States in 1970, she started her career as staff photographer, working for the just launched Rolling Stone magazine. She photographed The Rolling Stones in San Francisco in 1971 and 1972, and served as the concert-tour photographer for Rolling Stones Tour of the Americas ’75. 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.Richard Avedon‘s portraits became an important and powerful example in her life; she learned that she could work for magazines and still create personal work.
On December 8, 1980, Leibovitz had a photo shoot with John Lennon for Rolling Stone, promising him that he would make the cover.She had initially tried to get a picture with just Lennon alone, which is what 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 Double Fantasy album cover, a picture that she loved. 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.
In the 1980s, Leibovitz’s new style of lighting and use of bold colors and poses got her a position with Vanity Fair magazine. Leibovitz photographed celebrities for an international advertising campaign for American Express charge cards, winning her a Clio award in 1987. In 1991, Leibovitz mounted an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. She was the second living portraitist and first woman to show there. Leibovitz claims she never liked the word “celebrity”. “I’ve always been more interested in what they do than who they are, I hope that my photographs reflect that.”
In 2001, her daughter Sarah Cameron Leibovitz was born, when Leibovitz was 52 years old. Her twins (two girls) Susan and Samuelle were born to a surrogate mother in May 2005. Leibovitz was not married, but had a close relationship with noted writer and essayist Susan Sontag. They met in 1989, when both had already established notability in their careers. Even though Annie Leibovitz and Susan Sontag never formally stated their relationship Annie has said in her book A Photographers life “Words like ‘companion’ and ‘partner’ were not in our vocabulary. [….] We were two people who helped each other through our lives. The closest word is still ‘friend’.” Susan Sontag, a noted essayist and art critic, died in 2004.
Leibovitz is working, publishing and exhibiting her work to this day.