Annie Leibovitz WOMEN: Her Advice to Young Photographers

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All images from Annie Leibovitz WOMEN: New Portraits exhibition commissioned by UBS Wapping Hydraulic Power Station – 16 January – 7 February

 

Written by Jordan Wharf-Young

Photography by Amber Eggleden

Having missed Annie Leibovitz’s last London exhibition in 2008, I was thrilled about the prospect of being invited along to the preview of her new exhibition ‘WOMEN – New Portraits’ at the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station in East London. 

Like the women she photographs, Leibovitz is herself an inspiration to women both in her career and as a visual raconteur of the power and beauty of modern womanhood, You may instantly think of her rule-breaking pictures of A-listers: that one of Caitlin Jenner last year for example (she famously shot the Vanity Fair cover showing the reality star’s gender transformation), but Leibovitz’s sitters have ranged from celebrities and First Ladies to victims of domestic abuse – she has always maintained it is the human story that fascinates her above anything else. The photographer famously landed her first gig by walking in the offices of Rolling Stone magazine and asking to be hired in 1970, the rest is history. Google is saturated with stories and anecdotes about the photographer, but if you are interested in understanding what makes her tick ahead of this new exhibition, I recommend Vanity Fair‘s 2008 interview in which she talks about the process of portrait making as well as this article on Racked.com about the nine assignments that shaped her career, first published in the New Yorker in 2013.

As for the exhibition at Wapping, the body of work comprises portraits of strong female figures from 15 years ago, when she was working with her late partner Susan Sontag, to female figures in entertainment and media today. The gallery space is brick-work bare industrial and acts as a stark contrast to the glamour and the colour in the images on show.

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Annie spent much of the press morning, talking about each image, pointing out her favourites – the image of her mother choked her up a little and she chuckled when she remembered her time shooting anthropologist Dame Jane Goodall: “I only had eightminutes. She walked in and said, ‘you know, I hate doing this. I like going to the dentist better than this’, and I totally understand.”

Pushing through the scrum of photographers, I asked Annie what advice she could give young photographers like myself breaking in to the industry today. She had this to say:

“I think to begin with start close to home, photograph the people you love and you know and build a portfolio of pictures that you like and take them to whoever’s publishing… I mean, it’s a different time now, it’s about being able to make your own gallery and your own books. I think you still have to go take your work to people though […] no one is going to give you an assignment, it’s not going to happen anymore, you have to be your own self-kickstarter, and go find a subject that you really care about […] I didn’t move to New York until 1978 after like 13 years of Rolling Stone and y’know I think if I’d have moved to New York right away, I would have been eaten up and thrown out, so it’s really about trying to spend some time on your own work and being happy with it.”

Annie Leibovitz – WOMEN: New Portraits presented by UBS is open from Saturday 16th January until Sunday 7th February at the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, E1W 3SL. Entrance is free. Visit https://www.ubs.com/microsites/annie-leibovitz/en/exhibition.html for more information.

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Rihanna photographed in Cuba by Leibovitz for Vanity Fair's November 2015 issue
Rihanna photographed in Cuba by Leibovitz for Vanity Fair’s November 2015 issue
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Some of Annie’s books on display at the exhibition for viewers to browse.

 

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