Annie Leibovitz on Her New Book

The celebrated photographer drew a huge crowd at the SVA Theatre for “Wonderland”

| 30 Jun 2022 | 12:21

Hundreds of people showed up to see Annie Leibovitz last week. To hear her talk about her magnificent, very large new book, “Wonderland” and obtain a signed copy was the occasion of the event presented by American Photographic Artists-New York and the School of Visual Arts at the SVA Theatre on West 23rd Street in Chelsea.

But people also wanted to just see her. “I hear she is very tall,” one person said from the line that formed up to an hour before the start of the 7:00 p.m. event. Many chatted excitedly about photography and asked others to take photos of them with the scrolling SVA Theatre marquee announcing “An Evening with Annie Leibovitz!” in the background. The light, steady rain that started did not dampen the energy as staff prepared to usher people in – to a theater that soon filled right up to near its 479-seat capacity.

The celebrated photographer of stars is herself a star.

For over 50 years, Leibovitz has created images that document, inspire, or simply captivate our extended gaze. Many are portraits of the famous, some lesser known, others part of a crowd – now part of history – because she focused her expert lens in their direction.

Leibovitz was still in school at the San Francisco Art Institute in the early 1970s when she started working for Rolling Stone as a photographer. The work she did there quickly brought her to the attention of the editors of Vanity Fair, then Vogue, where she has worked for over 20 years capturing beauty and glamor of the chic and trendy from New York to Paris to London and anywhere else her assignments take her.

The 440-page “Wonderland” (Phaidon Press), a treasure of enchanting photographs, zooms in on her vast fashion photography collection over the years.

“I’ve never thought of myself as a fashion photographer, but my work for Vogue fueled the fire for a kind of photography that I might not otherwise have explored,” Leibovitz said in the book’s introduction. And this fire has produced excellence.

“For the past three decades, I’ve found myself lucky to be able to send Annie Leibovitz to take photographs for Vogue, and for the same three decades, I have had the regular experience of being dazzled by treasure on her return,” Anna Wintour, Vogue’s longtime editor-in-chief wrote in the foreword of her experience working with the famed photographer.

“Nothing is unphotographable for Annie; no request too outlandish, too bizarre, too hard.” Adding that the remarkable images produced by Leibovitz require “remarkable effort,” including the many hours she spent preparing for a portrait session with each subject.

International Fame

Leibovitz acknowledges that she is “driven and focused.” She pushes herself and the results are known – international fame, numerous awards, several published books and unknown number of fans – many right here in New York City where she makes her home, divided by time in her country home in Rhinebeck with her three daughters.

The event at SVA was pleasant. Her easy-flowing, conversational comments on some of the images from the book as they appeared on the movie-sized screen inspired occasional chuckles or laughter from the audience: slipping and sliding down the path to a waterfall to get that perfect shot of the model against the rocks; the backstory of a shoot that almost didn’t happen; different personality types. The audience was appreciative and engaged and ready to ask questions at the end of the presentation.

Travis Keyes, Chairman of APA-NY who co-produced the event, himself a professional photographer, says he knows why so many people showed up early to see Leibovitz.

“The beautiful thing about what Annie does, and what it provides the community [of photographers], is ‘we all fell in love with a picture’ and that’s why we were all there,” he said of her signature color and light-interplayed images, creatively posed or captured. And he enjoyed working with her. “Annie is just incredible. Every time I’ve met her or have been around her, she’s been nothing but professional and wonderful. It was just a joy to produce this event with her.”

In the book, it is how she sees that jumps out. There is a certain power in the pages as you flip through. The photos are all interesting. Some are stunning. Like brush strokes on canvas, a focal outfit or person grabs, and holds, your attention, and you linger or lean closer to get the full essence of what draws you.

And the luxury of fashion. Hours and hours transforming models and space in elaborate costume and design, preparing them for stage and theater as it may – adults and Alice in Wonderland – pose after pose, frame after frame to get that exact look, not satisfied until it is just so. It is fascinating and luxurious, a rich escape for those who choose to wander visually through its photography.

At 72, the woman who follows her own style, preferring to stay behind the scenes as she does with a camera, has created a fandom who sees her clearly through the images she has frozen in time, telling a story of her time. Her work is the masterpiece of a modern master, and in this collection, a wonderland indeed.