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The impulse to do American Music, writes famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, “came from a desire to return to my original subject and look at it with a mature eye. Bring my experience to it…make it a real American tapestry.” Her ambitious idea became American Music, a stunning collection of photographs of the musicians, places and people that enrich the landscape of American music.
As Rolling Stone’s chief photographer for over thirteen years, Leibovitz created a legendary body of work. Her portraits of some of the world’s most talented musicians capture more than the performer, they convey the art of making music. For American Music, Leibovitz traveled across the country to juke joints in the Mississippi Delta, honkytonks in Texas, and jazz clubs in New Orleans “to take pictures in places that mean something.” In her signature style, she shares stunning portraits of American greats -- B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Beck, Bob Dylan, Mary J. Blige, Jon Bon Jovi, Steve Earle, Ryan Adams, Miles Davis, Etta James, Pete Seeger, Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits, The Dixie Chicks, Dr. Dre, The Roots and many more.
American Music includes a commentary about the American Music project by Leibovitz, short essays by musicians Patti Smith, Rosanne Cash, Steve Earle, Mos Def, Ryan Adams, and Beck as well as biographical sketches of all the musicians.
A Photographer's Life 1990-2005
“I don’t have two lives,” Annie Leibovitz writes in the Introduction to this collection of her work from 1990 to 2005. “This is one life, and the personal pictures and the assignment work are all part of it.” Portraits of well-known figures–Johnny Cash, Nicole Kidman, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Keith Richards, Michael Jordan, Joan Didion, R2-D2, Patti Smith, Nelson Mandela, Jack Nicholson, and William Burroughs–appear alongside pictures of Leibovitz’s family and friends, reportage from the siege of Sarajevo in the early Nineties, and landscapes. The pictures form a narrative of a life rich in contrasts and continuities. The photographer has a long relationship that ends with illness and death. She chronicles the celebrations and heartbreaks of her large and robust family. She has children of her own. All the while, she is working, and the public work resonates with the themes of the life.
"The first thing I did with my very first camera was climb Mt. Fuji. Climbing Mt. Fuji is a lesson in determination and moderation. It would be fair to ask if I took the moderation part to heart. But it certainly was a lesson in respecting your camera. If I was going to live with this thing, I was going to have to think about what that meant. There were not going to be any pictures without it."
Annie Leibovitz describes how her pictures were made, starting with Richard Nixon's resignation, a story she covered with Hunter S. Thompson, and ending with Barack Obama's campaign. In between are a Rolling Stones Tour, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, The Blues Brothers, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Keith Haring, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Patti Smith, George W. Bush, William S. Burroughs, Kate Moss and Queen Elizabeth. The most celebrated photographer of our time discusses portraiture, reportage, fashion photography, lighting, and digital cameras.
Pilgrimage took Annie Leibovitz to places that she could explore with no agenda. She wasn’t on assignment. She chose the subjects simply because they meant something to her. The first place was Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts, which Leibovitz visited with a small digital camera. A few months later, she went with her three young children to Niagara Falls. “That’s when I started making lists,” she says. She added the houses of Virginia Woolf and Charles Darwin in the English countryside and Sigmund Freud’s final home, in London, but most of the places on the lists were American. The work became more ambitious as Leibovitz discovered that she wanted to photograph objects as well as rooms and landscapes. She began to use more sophisticated cameras and a tripod and to travel with an assistant, but the project remained personal.
Annie Leibovitz & Susan Sontag
The photographs by Annie Leibovitz in Women, taken especially for the book, encompass a broad spectrum of subjects: a rap artist, an astronaut, two Supreme Court justices, farmers, coal miners, movie stars, showgirls, rodeo riders, socialites, reporters, dancers, a maid, a general, a surgeon, the First Lady of the United States, the secretary of state, a senator, rock stars, prostitutes, teachers, singers, athletes, poets, writers, painters, musicians, theater directors, political activists, performance artists, and businesswomen. "Each of these pictures must stand on its own," Susan Sontag writes in the essay that accompanies the portraits. "But the ensemble says, So this what women are now -- as different, as varied, as heroic, as forlorn, as conventional, as unconventional as this."