04 June 2009


The digital decline of Annie Leibovitz's photography

Louis Vuitton astronaut pictureBad Astronomer Phil Plait likes the photography of Annie Leibovitz, such as this ad photo for Louis Vuitton bags featuring astronauts Sally Ride, Buzz Aldrin, and Jim Lovell. Despite her fame and the excellent work she's done in the past, I find most of Leibovitz's current work aesthetically repulsive.

A bit of a rant here. Annie used to take good photos, and she still occasionally does, but her advertising work (including this picture) and many of her portraits long ago strayed much too far into over-Photoshopped territory. One critic even called a picture she created last year the worst photograph ever made, and I'm inclined to agree.

I think this would have been a much better photo with the same people, all of whom I admire, plus the same truck and the same bag, outside on a sunny day, maybe on the landing strip at Edwards Air Force Base. Maybe in black and white. The example here is overlit, over-processed, oversaturated, and ingenuine. Their facial expressions aren't that great. And yeah, if they're supposed to be looking at and lit by the Moon, it's in entirely the wrong place in the image. Even a non-nerd can probably detect that intuitively.

Compare her classic portrait of Whoopi Goldberg in the bath (11th down on this page) to her recent Photoshop monstrosity of Whoopi (second down on this page).

I admire surreal photography and well-executed photo manipulation, whether using Photoshop or high-dynamic-range (HDR) imaging. But Leibovitz isn't doing that. She and her team of assistants have manipulated the life out of her images. Much of her new stuff reminds me of velvet paintings of dogs playing poker. The astronaut ad is no exception.

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And did you hear that Dylan went electric? I hate it when artists I like try something new. They should keep doing the same stuff over and over.

(Which isn't to say I'm a big fan of her new style, but I'm all in favour of trying new things, whether other people approve or not.)
Hell, I'm glad she's trying different stuff -- it's not like she's spent the past 40 years making nothing but black and white photos of sweaty singers in elevators. As I said, I like it when people do interesting and creative things with Photoshop. But she seems to have gone into doing uninteresting and banal things with it instead. Not every portrait needs to look like a set piece from Lord of the Rings.
I gotta agree, Derek. I ache to see some work of hers that hasn't been through the Pascal Dangin wringer. Not that he isn't a great retoucher, but I find her recent work to be far too overdone and seemingly decided upon by a committee, where everyone needs to be pleased, and the ensuing photograph looks like it.
...but the documentary her sister did on her is brilliant... I'm still a huge fan of hers - I still think she's one of the best photographers working right now. Every so often I see an image that hasn't been hacked to pieces and I really love it.
When she gets down to brass tacks and goes to Sarajevo, or just does a simple portrait with minimal retouching (check out the ones of Angelina Jolie and her kid or Cate Blanchett on the bicycle in that first page of samples in that first link collection), she can still do amazing stuff. That's why her other overdone stuff is such a disappointment.
annie is in just a decline, whether its digital or not, She has treated people so badly that her karma is now in a bad place.when she learned on the job 40 years ago ,she made herself famous, not thru talent but thru attrition. she is just a horrible human being. her work is and always will be commercial and never art. she will get a paragraph when they write the history of Photography in 50 years or not even. She is nothing but a commercial Hack that has convinence the masses that she is good. at best she is Sallaire to Mozart in the photo world of current time. oy vey what a bitch.
Wow, uh, did you have some sort of bad personal experience with her? I have no opinion on what sort of person she is -- I'm purely commenting on what I've seen change in her photography.
I haven't had any experience with Annie Lebovitz but my friend who reads Vanity Fair seems to agree with everyone's opinion here.
A lot of very great art has been made in the service of commerce - Michealangelo anyone? Those Rennaisance boys were all doing it for the coin, and there have been many great (and under-appreciated, at times) examples since then. Art and commercial needs are hardly incompatable. That said, a lot of her later work is schmaltzy to the max.
Again, I'm not criticizing her for taking commercial photos for advertising. I'm just saying that much of what she's done there is crap.
Annie Liebovitz's work if you want to call it work has always been crap.
Despite her huge income, she seems to be having financial problems as well. Pity.
if you don't go with the times you're going to sound like your great grandfather who uses a typewriter instead of a keyboard. yeah there is charm to it, but why not get with the times?
Are you talking to me or Annie? :)

I don't care what technology she uses, as long as she makes good images. But I don't think she's making good images these days, on average.
i was talking in general.

sorry, was engaged in this other conversation with a friend of mine who was saying that digital imaging is no longer photograph to which i disagreed. so i tried to google some examples and came across this

be well. :)
Here here Derek,
I have been familiar with Annie's work for over 20 years and Seeing the coming on the Digital age and what it has done to this wonderful artform and how many fall prey to it. Ever since i started spotting the Work she has been doing lately, Photoshopped to death I have had a bad taste in my mouth. As you said, "Much of her new stuff reminds me of velvet paintings of dogs playing poker." That statement described exacly how I felt about it.