Travels with Annie Leibovitza
In the mid-1990s, Life magazine featured Annie Leibovitz as “probably the most successful photographer of her generation” and, as one writer suggested, “the Matthew Brady of the baby boomers” (Van Biema 1994, 49).1 First at Rolling Stone and then later at Vanity Fair, Leibovitz became known as the visual chronicler of the rock-androll sixties to the Reagan-Kohl-Thatcher eighties. Her photographs of celebrity icons, such as John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Rolling Stones, or Ella Fitzgerald, became staple commodities of popular culture. Writing for Time, Richard Lacayo plots the trajectory of Leibovitz's own career within the context of the transition from sixties counterculture to mass media commercial culture of the eighties. More significantly, Lacayo concludes that Leibovitz “has been a crucial figure in this transition”(1991, 74). The road from Woodstock to Woodstock' 94 reflects Leibovitz's own professional biography, from a photojournalist for Rolling Stone to celebrity photographer for Vanity Fair. In addition to her work for mass-market print media, Leibovitz has also accepted extensive commissions for corporate clients, including The Gap and American Express. She also produces for the art-photography market through periodic shows in galleries and museums, as well as through book publications of her work. Indeed, Leibovitz's work in multiple venues and media, as well as her collaboration with corporate sponsors, is characteristic of many contemporary artist-entrepreneurs.
This chapter will examine how the images of “celebrity” (mediated by the aesthetic strategies employed in Leibovitz's photography) construct contemporary images of identity and place. Leibovitz's projects (unlike those of other postmodern photographers such as Barbara Kruger or Cindy Sherman) do not inherently problematize the uses of photography and representation; rather, they illustrate the problematic aspects of postmodern photography within media culture (Kellner 1995). In terms of our discussion of the cultural politics of corporate sponsorship, the use of photography both as a medium of visual communication and consumption and as contemporary art situates it precisely on the boundary of art and mass consumption—an attractive site for corporate image transfer. For Douglas Crimp, photography assumes a pivotal position in tracing the end of modernism and the turn to postmodern aesthetics: