The NYTimes Insider: “How to Photograph Annie Leibovitz”

From a Times Insider column by Megan DiTrolio headlined “How to Photograph Annie Leibovitz”:

An article published in The New York Times’s Arts section last week, “A ‘Conceptual Artist’ at Work,” explores the life, artistry and new book of the photographer Annie Leibovitz. The portraits of Ms. Leibovitz that accompany the article, shot by the photographer Gillian Laub, are just as illuminating: Intimate and inviting, the photos capture the vulnerable, often unseen side of a person who is normally behind the camera.

Ms. Laub shared her experience photographing Ms. Leibovitz — and what is so uniquely challenging, slightly intimidating and deeply rewarding about working with somebody renowned in their shared field….

How were you feeling heading into this assignment? The task of making a portrait of a photographic and portrait legend was daunting, to say the least. But it was also really exciting.

Did you approach the assignment differently from a normal shoot?
I always approach every shoot with an open mind and an open heart. There’s some planning involved, of course, but I like to let there be enough room for discovery and spontaneity.

What are the greatest challenges in photographing a photographer?
There’s a level of self-consciousness and awareness of the camera that’s unique to photographing another photographer. It felt like we were both sympathetic to the other because I think she knew how intimidating it is for somebody to photograph her. And I recognize that someone who’s always behind the camera, like Annie, is rarely in front of the camera.

The first portrait we did was in Annie’s kitchen. She felt so bad because the light was tricky, and she said she’s never been able to make a great picture in her kitchen. So we were actually trying to problem-solve it together.

How do you help your subjects feel comfortable enough to open up?
There’s no formula….When I talked to Annie before the shoot, and she asked where I’d like to do it, there was no question I wanted to do it at her home in Rhinebeck. I’d seen many images of her at work and in the studio, and that’s really the Annie that we’ve seen publicly.

Vulnerability is really about trust. And we’re all vulnerable, so it’s really the one thing that connects us all. How to capture it? Well, that’s in the magic that’s photography….

What was the biggest thing you learned or took away from the shoot?
I’ve always heard how meticulous and thorough Annie is about the research she does before her shoots, so to get a window into that and her creative process was pretty amazing. I laughed when I saw her desk, because there was a big file on me and many printouts of my work, Google images, articles on me and my recent book. I had every one of her books — I brought very heavy bags filled with her books so she could sign them.

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