Annie Leibovitz Discusses New Book, ‘Wonderland’, Releasing Nov. 17

Yoshiko Yap

Annie Leibovitz would like to make a single point very clear upfront: She is not a fashion photographer. Presented that her new book, “Wonderland (Phaidon) is an anthology of trend images shot primarily for Vogue, that’s curious.

But considering that the guide, which comes on Nov. 17, was developed on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” most likely it is not so curious soon after all. As Alice confronts a forged of bewildering characters, she asks, “Who in the environment am I?” Leibovitz, by means of style, poses the same dilemma.

“I’ve grown executing do the job in this genre,” she stated, “but it did not go along with my perception about myself and my perform. I come from a position where I want issues to really make any difference.”

“Ambivalence and irony are in the e-book,” she instructed me later.

As a pupil at the San Francisco Art Institute, Leibovitz was impressed by the gritty, spontaneous images of Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson. However she admired the trend work of Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and Irving Penn, she experienced no need to emulate them. “I assumed trend was foolish,” she mentioned.

We achieved at Studio 525 in Chelsea, where Hauser & Wirth was holding a 5-day “Wonderland” pop-up demonstrate throughout Style 7 days in September. (The Southampton outpost of the gallery will be exhibiting some of the identical images from Nov. 6 as a result of Dec. 23.)

4 gigantic screens projected a variety of Leibovitz’s work, from a expecting Melania Trump in a gold lamé bikini, to Girl Gaga in Valentino haute couture. Leibovitz, who is 72, was moving gingerly on an aching hip that terribly requirements replacement surgical treatment, pushing herself the way she did two months before when she shot puffers, parkas and jackets close to an energetic volcano in Iceland.

She was dressed in her regular uniform of black trousers and matching shirt. That morning she’d questioned one of her teenage daughters if she ought to dress in a 20-calendar year-old tattered blue shirt but was immediately explained to, “Wear the black one.”

“I’m just a creature of ease and comfort,” she stated. “I really don’t think about any one is on the lookout at me.”

Leibovitz is just one of the prime portrait photographers in the earth, but I have long been a enthusiast of her style photography — in many ways, I believe it is her strongest operate. For most folks, “Wonderland” will be their first exposure to Leibovitz’s expertise in this location.

The 341 photographs in the book bear the hallmarks of the Leibovitz style — masterly use of colour, theatrical staging, artful interplay in between synthetic and pure light — but the most effective of them reside up to the book’s title. They are enchanting, wrapped in a visible narrative that showcases her items as a potent storyteller.

“When 1 normally does a style shoot the purpose is to illustrate the apparel,” stated Phyllis Posnick, Vogue’s contributing editor and a frequent Leibovitz collaborator. “Annie ‘dresses’ the photo.”

When I complimented Leibovitz on the e book, she replied, “I’ll think that as far as I can throw you. I have been all around the block also lengthy.”

Fifty many years, in reality, starting up as a photojournalist at Rolling Stone. She captured some of the most defining times of the period, from President Nixon’s ignoble exit from the White Dwelling, to a naked John Lennon curled up in a fetal position around Yoko Ono. At Vainness Truthful, she turned acknowledged for her quirky, conceptual portraits of boldface names, like a nude, 7-months pregnant Demi Moore.

Then, in 1993, the author Susan Sontag, Leibovitz’s companion, inspired her to deepen her get the job done by documenting the conflict in Sarajevo. But in 1998, Vogue’s editor in main, Anna Wintour, now Condé Nast’s international editorial director, approached her about operating for the journal. A 12 months afterwards, she was sent to Paris all through the couture demonstrates to shoot a photo essay with its trend editor, Grace Coddington. The story highlighted Kate Moss and Sean Combs, then regarded as Puff Daddy.

Leibovitz, who experienced never ever attended a fashion present prior to, was “in awe,” she claimed of the artistry on screen. “It was like functionality artwork.” The practical experience gave her a greater appreciation of trend. “But I could never be a bona fide manner photographer,” she added, detailing that she thinks of herself as a “conceptual artist making use of images.”

James Danziger, whose gallery represented Leibovitz for in excess of a decade, was the 1st to show her style images in 2006. “It’s very likely that historically these photographs, which are good style images, will finest stand the test of time,” he mentioned. “This is the way it is in pictures. Most famous people are neglected but vogue lasts.”

Leibovitz continued at Vogue for the next 23 years, generating a considerable human body of do the job but considered it was “too soft” for a guide. Then Covid-19 occurred, and she located herself quarantined with her three daughters at her 200-acre farm in Rhinebeck, N. Y. She’s owned the residence for 25 several years it is the place her significant loved ones gathers — she’s just one of 6 small children — and where by Sontag typically made use of to publish.

In lockdown with her daughters for virtually a 12 months, she was grateful for the time together. Two of her most fanciful photo essays in the book, “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Wizard of Oz,” had been shot when her daughters have been youthful — the oldest is now 20, the twins 16. “At the time I was studying fairy tales to them, so I was seriously dwelling in that entire world,” she reported.

The book also reawakened reminiscences of Sontag. Leibovitz reminisced about the time Sontag read “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” to her. “We had blankets underneath a tree,” she mentioned. “It was this kind of a beautiful working day, and Susan had this sort of a superb voice.”

Leibovitz shot the “Alice” pictures with Coddington in 2003, in the course of Condé Nast’s absolutely free-expending times, when no one particular blinked an eye about sending a crew of 30 to 40 people today to a chateau in northern France. “When you glimpse at each individual photograph and how a lot time it took, it is definitely head-boggling,” Coddington said.

The images have been primarily based on John Tenniel’s initial illustrations in the Carroll book, including a person of Alice squeezed within the White Rabbit’s residence. The set designer manufactured a duplicate, scaling it to the product Natalia Vodianova’s proportions. “The residence was really unbelievable, with a minor table and chairs,” Coddington explained. “But Annie considered the windows ended up improper, so the designer had to rebuild the full matter.”

Fashion designers were being forged as people in the ebook, amongst them John Galliano as the Queen of Hearts, Tom Ford as the White Rabbit and Marc Jacobs as the Caterpillar. Karl Lagerfeld, who had preferred to be the White Rabbit, appeared as himself.

“I’ve constantly cherished the way Annie delivers a sense of narrative or storytelling to her style illustrations or photos,” Wintour wrote in an email. “She has an eye for character, conflict, romance, drama — you always experience something appealing is occurring, or about to transpire, or has just happened.”

In another manner essay Leibovitz presents a hilarious parody of well known couture shoots of the previous. In 1963, many years ahead of Photoshop, Melvin Sokolsky took models out of the studio and shot them in a plexiglass bubble about distinctive sections of Paris. Leibovitz placed Ben Stiller, reprising his “Zoolander” position, inside of a replicate bubble and dangled it from a crane around the Seine. Karen Mulligan, Leibovitz’s longtime studio supervisor, recalled acquiring to reassure Stiller’s nervous publicist that if he fell in the river, scuba divers had been on standby.

A passionate researcher who loves historical past, Leibovitz is drawn to the narrative essays due to the fact they give her anything to concentrate on other than clothing. In 2007, she traveled to Spain for a tale based loosely on Hemingway’s “The Solar Also Rises.” Leibovitz experienced prepared to shoot Penélope Cruz and Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez, the terrific-grandson of the renowned matador who’d inspired the character of the bullfighter in the Hemingway novel.

“The working day before the shoot we read that Cayetano had been gored by a bull and was heading to the hospital,” Mulligan recalled. “Then he suddenly showed up. He’d bandaged his very own leg. We had to get him into all those restricted matador trousers and blood stored seeping as a result of.”

Like Ordóñez, Leibovitz looks to prosper on worry. “She tortures herself and every person else,” Coddington explained. “But she’s exclusive, and I admire the exertion she puts into every single image.” Many others who’ve labored with her say that her relentless perfectionism can lead to angry outbursts, but concur that she’s less reactive now.

“I was ruthless in finding the photograph,” Leibovitz admitted. “I haven’t had the very best actions.”

“Working with Annie is not for the faint of heart,” said Mary Howard, her established designer of 30 yrs, adding, “Annie by no means would like to have regrets.”

She also doesn’t want to lose command in excess of an job interview. We sat opposite every single other at a lengthy desk that was piled with exploration content — for me and on me. The latter was encased in see-by way of plastic and, according to Leibovitz, contained an email in which an unnamed man or woman experienced created “some not pretty wonderful points.” I was tempted to check with, “Like what?” and then observed myself glancing more than to see if I could study it.

Leibovitz retained her notes on her left. I held my notes on my ideal. We ended up like two legal professionals squaring off just before a jury composed of large electronic famous people encompassing us in the gallery. “I really do not know if I have the ability to chat about the perform though it’s flashing like this,” she said.

But communicate she did — appropriate via numerous of my issues. It was the 1st job interview she’d carried out about the e book and admitted she was nervous.

As an alternative she talked over all the excellent work staying completed in photojournalism, and how she does not recognize why every single type of pictures isn’t embraced. “Isn’t it?” I questioned. She replied, “Well, if something’s not serious enough….” Before when I’d requested her to outline the meaning of the phrase “wonderland,” she explained, “It’s the reverse of genuine — unreal.” As in manner.

“Maybe it’s the friction that makes the do the job so good,” I advised.

She paused. “Possibly.”

Leibovitz was additional at ease talking about the book’s portraits. In 2007, she gained the initially of a few commissions from the royal residence to photograph Queen Elizabeth II, who was aggravated that she’d had to use the complete regalia of the ancient Get of the Garter.

Leibovitz imagined the queen’s tiara didn’t appear ideal with the ornate gown, and in a BBC documentary, she’s listened to declaring, “Could we try out without having the crown? It will glimpse improved, a lot less dressy.” The queen states, “Much less dressy? What do you consider this is?” But she ultimately taken off the tiara.

The photographs of Caitlyn Jenner for Self-importance Fair represent style at its most transformative. The previous Olympic decathlon gold medalist sported a variety of outfits, together with a gold corset and a black Zac Posen costume. “We weren’t seeking to do journalism,” she defined. “It was a construction, an acquired glimpse. We had been there to support her as she grew to become a female.”

When performing for Vogue Leibovitz has to remind herself that even portraits need to have a manner ingredient. “I consider to downplay it as substantially as I can,” she spelled out. “I’m absolutely on the subject’s aspect. From time to time Vogue will assistance with the garments, but Michelle Obama was adamant about wearing her personal. ”

When Leibovitz went to photograph Senator Tammy Duckworth, the senator had currently selected her outfit: a St. John Knits suit that she’d bought on eBay. “She defined that she bought all her satisfies off eBay,” Leibovitz reported. “I instructed her, “C’mon, let’s do it. I adore that I get to have those minimal times.”

Leibovitz had difficulty acquiring the perfect ending for the guide, at last picking a photograph from Alexander McQueen’s very last collection in 2010. The excellent 40-yr-aged designer committed suicide that 12 months on the initial working day of New York Style Week. “McQueen’s assortment had been delivered to New York for Grace and me to shoot,” she recalled. “We took it into a significant building in Brooklyn, and as we lifted the items out, we thought, Let’s depart them in the shipping packing containers.”

In the course of the working day, as Coddington and Leibovitz worked in silence, the mild moved slowly across the space. Eventually, it cast a beatific glow on the product standing in the picket crate. Dressed in a coat tailor-made from lacquered gold feathers, she’s like a Renaissance archangel fearsome in her gilded glory.

Leibovitz, the un-vogue photographer, captured the excellent style instant.

Patricia Morrisroe is the writer of “Mapplethorpe: A Biography” and “The Girl in the Moonlight,” a novel.

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