Leibovitz on display at the MCA

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Annie Leibovitz was and is many things. Daughter of a US Air Force lieutenant colonel. Student of music in her college years. Ex-lover of political activist Susan Sontag. Mother of three. But what she is most famous for is her photographic genius. In fact, some of Leibovitz’s photographs are about as famous as the subjects themselves. She was the last person to photography John Lennon – five hours before he was shot dead. The infamous cover image for Rolling Stone magazine depicts Lennon in foetal position beside wife Yoko Ono, as if wishing to return to the womb.

Other standouts in Leibovitz’s portfolio are two portraits of Demi Moore; one of the actress pregnant and naked, the other in bodypaint, both for Vanity Fair; a picture of The Queen (who refused to be photographed outdoors hence photoshopped is introduced to feature an English garden backdrop); George W Bush with hands in pocket and a definitive Texan swagger just before calling war on Afghanistand and Iraq; Jack from The White Stripes about to throw knives at Meg who is hoisted on a carnival bullseye wheel; and Leonardo DiCaprio looking sullen with a (dead?) swan roped around his neck.

Leibovitz has a knack of capturing celebrities at their most vulnerable, or at least making it look like the hardest of public figures have a softer soft, like Brad Pitt dressed in op-shop drag lounging in a cheap motel (pictured) or Whoopi Goldberg lapping it up in a bathtub of milk. But the photographer is also known to go over-the-top with notions of glamour, like her 1993 image of Nicole Kidman in ball gown surrounded by blinding lights. Both the Brad and Nicole images, along with those of the Queen and GW Bush, feature in the retrospective exhibition ‘Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life’ that is now on at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.

Also among the 200 photographs are personal images of Leibovitz and her loved ones, including one very dark montage of lover Sontag laying dead in a morgue. “I don’t have two lives,” Leibovitz once said. “This is one life, and the personal pictures and the assignment work are all part of it.”

‘Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life’ is on exhibit at the MCA, The Rocks, Sydney until March 27th 2011. Admission is $15 ($10 with concession). More information at www.mca.com.au.

Annie Leibovitz (American, b 1949)
Brad Pitt, Las Vegas, 1994
Photograph by Annie Leibovitz
From ‘Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life, 1990-2005′
Courtesy of Vanity Fair