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Archive for the ‘Annie Leibovitz’ Category

The Obama Family, the first official White House portrait shot by photographer Annie Leibovitz, Sept. 1, 2009

The Obama Family, the first official White House portrait shot by photographer Annie Leibovitz, Sept. 1, 2009

The White House has released the first official – and wonderful! – family portrait of President Barack Obama and his family. The photograph, taken by famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz, was shot in the Green Room of the White House on September 1, 2009. It shows a happy First Family, from left to right, the President, his younger daughter Natasha (Sasha), wife Michelle, and older daughter Malia Ann.

The Lovely Michelle Obama

The Lovely Michelle Obama

For those of you who can’t get enough of Michelle Obama’s fashion sense, visit the blog “Mrs. O.”

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Self-Portrait by Richard Avedon

Self-Portrait by Richard Avedon (1923-2004)

Photographer Annie Leibovitz doesn’t talk to her subjects when photographing them. “I certainly can’t talk to people and take pictures at the same time. For one thing, I look through a viewfinder when I work.” (1)

But famed photographer Richard Avedon had a different style. Leibovitz observed that Avedon “seduced his subjects with conversation. He had a Rolleiflex that he would look down at and then up from. It was never in front of his face” but next to him while he talked. (1)

 

 

Truman Capote, author of "In Cold Blood" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" photographed by Richard Avedon in New York City, 1955.

Truman Capote, author of "In Cold Blood" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" photographed by Richard Avedon in New York City, 1955.

In this way, Avedon got what he wanted from his sitter. According to writer Truman Capote, Avedon was interested in “the mere condition of a face.”

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor with one of their beloved pugs.

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor with one of their beloved pugs.

 

Some, though, felt that Avedon’s impulses had a cruel edge, showing the face in a harsh light. Here’s a case in point: In 1957, Richard Avedon scheduled a New York City appointment to photograph the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom and Wallis Warfield Simpson of Baltimore. The Windsors were very practiced at putting on happy, regal faces for the camera and Avedon anticipated that. As a royal pair, they were endlessly photographed since they had nothing better to do with themselves since the Duke abdicated the British throne in 1936, giving up crown and kingdom, and moving to France with Wallis.

But Avedon didn’t want that kind of stock photo of the royal pair. According to another fellow photographer, Diane Arbus, Avedon knew that the Windsors were avid dog lovers and would use this knowledge to cruel advantage.

Valet in livery of the Bois de Bologne, Paris, home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor with pugs Mr. Disraeli, Mr. Chu, Trooper, Imp, and Davy Crockett

Valet in livery of the Bois de Bologne, Paris home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor with pugs Mr. Disraeli, Mr. Chu, Trooper, Imp, and Davy Crockett

 

In 1997, Sotheby's auctioned off the contents of the Paris home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Included in their possessions were these pug pillows arranged at the foot of the Duchess' bed. Although Wallis, the Duchess, was fastidious about cleanliness, she allowed the pugs to sleep in the bed with her. "“Paper money for the Duchess was either ordered new and crisp from a bank or wash cleaned and ironed by the housemaids; coins were always washed. Each evening, just before dinner was served, two maids could be found carrying bedsheets through the halls by their corners; the bed linens, having just been ironed, were destined for the rooms of the Duke and Duchess. Wallis could not stand wrinkles in her bed….Once the bed was made, a plastic sheet was spred atop the satin eiderdown so that the pugs could climb onto the bed with Wallis; there she would feed them the hand-baked dog biscuits prepared fresh each day by her chef. Usually the pugs slept on the bed with her, although the Duke’s favorite might disappear through the boudoir to his own spot at the foot of his master’s bed.” The Duchess of Windsor: The Uncommon Life of Wallis Simpson by Greg King

In 1997, Sotheby's auctioned off the contents of the Paris home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Included in their possessions were these pug pillows arranged at the foot of the Duchess' bed. Although Wallis, the Duchess, was fastidious about cleanliness, she allowed the pugs to sleep in the bed with her. "“Paper money for the Duchess was either ordered new and crisp from a bank or wash cleaned and ironed by the housemaids; coins were always washed. Each evening, just before dinner was served, two maids could be found carrying bedsheets through the halls by their corners; the bed linens, having just been ironed, were destined for the rooms of the Duke and Duchess. Wallis could not stand wrinkles in her bed….Once the bed was made, a plastic sheet was spread atop the satin eiderdown so that the pugs could climb onto the bed with Wallis; there she would feed them the hand-baked dog biscuits prepared fresh each day by her chef. Usually the pugs slept on the bed with her, although the Duke’s favorite might disappear through the boudoir to his own spot at the foot of his master’s bed.” The Duchess of Windsor: The Uncommon Life of Wallis Simpson by Greg King

This is what he did: When Avedon arrived at the appointment to photograph the Windsors, he got them seated just as he wanted them then told them a lie. He explained how, on his way to meet them, his taxi had accidentally run over a dog in the street and killed it. As the Windsors flinched with sympathetic horror, Avedon clicked the shutter – and caught their expression. Here is that photo.

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor, New York, 1957. Photograph by Richard Avedon

The Duchess and Duke of Windsor, New York, 1957. Photograph by Richard Avedon

The photograph caused an international sensation. Some said it made the Duchess look like a toad. British Royalists were outraged at the unflattering portrait. But Avedon defended lying to the couple to conceive the portrait, arguing that his photographs tended to show what people were really like.

If that was indeed true, the Windsors appeared to be two very dreadful people, a suspicion already aroused by their most ungracious familiarity with Adolf Hitler and his Nazi cronies in the pre WWII years. While living in an elegant Paris home provided by the French government on a lavish income bestowed on them by the  British government, the Windsors regularly made pro-fascist remarks to the press as well as disparaging comments about their lack of loyalty to either of  their host countries, France and Britain. They palled around with British traitors like Oswald Mosley and wife Diana Mitford in the French countryside until the Duke’s brother, the reigning King George VI of the United Kingdom got wise to the danger and shipped them off to the Bahamas for the duration of the war.

Avedon once remarked that the Windsors loved dogs more than they loved Jews.

(1) Leibovitz, Annie. Annie Leibovitz at Work. New York: Random House, 2008.

Readers: For more posts on this site on Annie Leibovitz or the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, scroll down the right sidebar: Categories: People.

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photo of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, March 28, 2007, by Annie Leibovitz
photo of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, March 28, 2007, by Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz photographed Queen Elizabeth. Here’s what she had to say about that experience.
Excerpted from Annie Leibovitz at Work, by Annie Leibovitz, published by Random House © 2008

The Queen

In 2007, a few weeks before Queen Elizabeth visited the United States for the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, I was asked to take her portrait. I was the first American to be asked by the Palace to make an official portrait of the Queen, which was very flattering. I felt honored. I also felt that because I was an American I had an advantage over every other photographer or painter who had made a portrait of her. It was O.K. for me to be reverent. The British are conflicted about what they think of the monarch. If a British portraitist is reverent, he’s perceived to be doting. I could do something traditional.

It’s ironic that the sitting with the Queen became controversial. I’m rather proud of having been in control of a complicated shoot. The controversy arose about two months after the pictures were published, when the BBC claimed that the Queen had walked out while we were shooting. This was completely untrue, and although they retracted the claim and issued an apology to the Queen and to me almost immediately, the scandal had a life of its own. The story, which came to be referred to as Queengate, wouldn’t die. Eventually the head of BBC One resigned over it.

When I was preparing for the shoot, I thought about using the landscape around Balmoral Castle, in Scotland. I brought this up in the very first conference call with the Palace. I said that Americans thought of the Queen as an outdoorswoman. I had been influenced by Helen Mirren’s performance in The Queen and I couldn’t help mentioning how much I liked her character in that film. There was a long silence on the other end of the line.

The second idea I had, after Balmoral, was to photograph the Queen on horseback. I asked where she rode and they said she went riding every Saturday at Windsor Castle. I said that I would love to see her in her riding clothes, and in a later conversation I asked if she could stop during her weekend ride and get off her horse and mount it again. That is, could I do a portrait of her in the trees. They said, No, it was not possible. She just rode the horse and came back, and, anyway, she didn’t wear riding clothes anymore. A few days later they said it was going to be Buckingham Palace and no horses.

I realized that I was going to need some time on the ground for this. When we arrived in London, we went straight to the palace and were shown all the rooms, including the throne room—everywhere except the private quarters. And then we scouted the back. There was a wintery sky and the trees didn’t have leaves. It was an appropriate mood for this moment in the Queen’s life. There was no way, however, that she was going to stand outside in formal attire.

For a sitting like this you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You try to have as many options as possible. I kept thinking that somehow I would get the Queen outside, but I began choosing formal outfits. I narrowed the robes down to a very handsome Order of the Garter cape, but then we were told that she could wear only a white dress under it. We were lobbying for a gold dress. I was also hoping for a dress with more body to it. The Queen wears very streamlined dresses now that she’s older, and I wanted her in something with more volume. But she didn’t have anything like that. Finally everyone agreed that she could wear a gold-and-white dress under the Order of the Garter robe. The Queen was 80 years old. She was sturdy, but putting on and taking off a lot of heavy clothes is tiring, and she had to be dressed in layers to expedite things. The gold-white dress became the base.

I was still upset that I couldn’t get her outside. It was so beautiful out there. And it wasn’t cold or raining or anything. I began thinking about what Cecil Beaton had done. He brought in flowered backdrops. Beaton was big on backdrops. He made very stagy portraits. Perhaps because the pictures were made in black and white you don’t notice the backdrops. They sort of go out of focus. I realized that I could do something similar digitally. I decided to photograph the garden and the trees for a backdrop.

The Palace had given us 25 minutes with the Queen, so there had to be a battle plan. I chose a grand reception room, the White Drawing Room, as the principal setting because of the light from the tall windows. Supplementary lights had been pre-set so that when the Queen moved from one spot to another all we needed to do was switch them on. We had constructed a gray canvas backdrop in an anteroom, and she was to come in there wearing the Order of the Garter robe and the dress, but no tiara. The first shot was to be made on a balcony, with the sky behind her. That sky could be digitally exchanged later for the pictures I had taken in the gardens the day before. I didn’t want her to be wearing a tiara in the gardens.

The morning of the shoot, the Queen came walking down the hall very purposefully. She was definitely a force. This was all being taped by the BBC for a documentary. I would never have agreed to their being there if I felt I had any choice, but they had been following her around for months. Their microphone picked up her saying, “I’ve had enough of dressing like this, thank you very much,” as she marched down the hall. Later, when segments of footage for the BBC were edited for a promotional film, it appeared as if the Queen were stomping out of the photo session rather than going into it. Thus the brouhaha.

The Queen was about 20 minutes late, which we thought was a little strange. When that happens, you never know if it can be made up on the other end. My five-year-old daughter, Sarah, had come with us, and she curtsied and offered the Queen flowers, and I introduced my team. At this point I was in shock. The Queen had the tiara on. That was not the plan. It was supposed to be added later. The dresser knew that. The Queen started saying, “I don’t have much time. I don’t have much time,” and I took her to the first setup and showed her the pictures of the gardens. I think she understood what we had in mind. Then I walked her into the drawing room, probably sooner than I would have if things had been going well. She composed herself when I took some pictures.

I knew how tight everything was, especially with the loss of 20 minutes, and I asked the Queen if she would remove the tiara. (I used the word “crown,” which was a faux pas.) I suggested that a less dressy look might be better. And she said, “Less dressy! What do you think this is?” I thought she was being funny. English humor. But I noticed that the dresser and everyone else who had been working with her were staying about 20 feet away from her.

We removed the big robe, and I took the picture of the Queen looking out the window, and then I said, Listen, I was a little thrown when you first came in, and I have one more picture I’d like to try, with an admiral’s boat cloak. I was thinking of one of Cecil Beaton’s last pictures of the Queen. A very stark and simple and strong portrait in which she’s wearing a boat cloak. We went back into the anteroom, where the gray canvas backdrop had been set up, and she took off the tiara and put on the cloak. That’s the shot we digitally imposed on pictures of the garden.

Right after we finished, I went up to the press secretary and said how much I loved the Queen. How feisty she was. Later I mentioned to a couple of friends that she had been a bit cranky, but it was nothing unusual. What was remarkable about the shoot, and I wrote the Queen a note about this later, was something the BBC missed: her resolve, her devotion to duty. She stayed until I said it was over. Until I said, “Thank you.” We were finished a little before our allotted 25 minutes were up.

 

Readers, for more on this episode, read my post, “The Queen is Mad.”

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In this March 2007 photo, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II greets American photographer Annie Leibowitz at a reception prior to their photo shoot. Notice that the Queen has her black Launer purse on her arm.

In this March 2007 photo, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II greets American photographer Annie Leibovitz at a reception prior to their photo shoot. Notice that the Queen has her black Launer purse on her arm.

Prior to her May 2007 visit to the United States, Queen Elizabeth II sat for a series of official photographs by famous celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz. Ms. Leibovitz is well known for her sometimes controversial celebrity photographs including one of a naked John Lennon hugging a fully clothed Yoko Ono.

December 8, 1980 photograph of John Lennon with wife Yoko Ono taken by Annie Leibowitz. Five hours after this photo shoot, Lennon was shot dead.

December 8, 1980 photograph of John Lennon with wife Yoko Ono taken by Annie Leibowitz.

Leibovitz has said the original concept for the now legendary John Lennon and Yoko Ono Rolling Stone cover was for both to appear nude, designed to mark the release of their album “Double Fantasy.” As legend has it, Lennon was game, shedding his clothes quickly, but Ono felt uncomfortable even taking off her top. Leibovitz recalled for Rolling Stone:

“I was kinda disappointed, and I said, ‘Just leave everything on.’ We took one Polaroid, and the three of us knew it was profound right away.”

It was December 8, 1980. Five hours later, Lennon was dead – shot and killed by Mark David Chapman in front of his Manhattan apartment.

Now back to what I was saying about the Queen:

Leibowitz took the official portraits of Queen Elizabeth II in March 2007. One of the photos, shown below, shows a very serene Queen sitting in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace dressed in a pale gold evening dress, fur stole, and diamond tiara. The wide shot captures the Queen gazing towards a large open window and reveals some of the room’s furnishings and a reflection of a chandelier in a mirror. The room is dark except for the soft light flooding through the open window. All is calm.

Queen Elizabeth II photographed by Annie Leibowitz, March 2007

Queen Elizabeth II, photographed by Annie Leibowitz, March 2007

The session was going smoothly until Leibovitz asked the Queen to take off her tiara (crown) to look “less dressy” for the next photo. The Queen flew into a huff and replied:

“Less dressy? What do you think this is?”

Queen Elizabeth II, photographed by Annie Leibowitz, March 2007. The Queen is not amused after having been asked by Leibowitz to take off her crown, which is actually a tiara.

The Queen was definitely not amused and the tiara stayed on the royal head.

The incident was caught on tape and included in a  BBC documentary “A Year with the Queen.” The BBC kept the footage and included it in a  promotional trailer for the film. The trailer shows the Queen telling an aide, “I’m not changing anything. I’ve had enough dressing like this, thank you very much” and storming out of the room.  The BBC later apologized and admitted that the sequence of events shown on the trailer had been misrepresented, as the Queen was in fact walking to the sitting in the second scene, not exiting. This led to a BBC scandal and a shake-up of ethics training. The event is known as “Tiaragate” and “Crowngate.” According to sources, the Queen was still furious about the incident months later.

Here’s the NBC-TV report:

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