You have a great treat ahead of you.
If a great portrait photographer can wring powerful meaning from people she barely knows, imagine what she can do with those she knows and loves. That's the exciting door that Annie Leibovitz opens for us in publishing A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005. Walk through that door, and you'll never be the same.
While there are many wonderful celebrity portraits in the volume, those mostly pale my comparison to the intimate portraits from Ms. Leibovitz's personal life. In many ways, Ms. Leibovitz's life is both mundane and extraordinary . . . and these images help us see more deeply into both.
As she hints in the introduction, Ms. Leibovitz sees each person as small and fleeting in terms of the universe . . . but large and important in the moment terms of the uniqueness of that person and that moment for those whose lives are touched at the time. The iconic photographs of Susan Sontag dwarfed by the opening to Petra in Jordan and sitting on the Great Pyramid capture this sense beautifully. But so do photographs of celebrities (like Cindy Crawford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Carrey, and Sylvester Stallone) looking as they never looked before or since.
Ms. Leibovitz is unafraid to reveal herself which adds to the dynamic of this book themed around the fleeting nature of human life. You'll see her partially undraped with camera in hand creating a series of four self portraits. The serious look in her eyes belies the sensuality of her torso. Having chosen motherhood in her fifties, you'll also see her fully exposed in her pregnant state in a portrait that echoes the famous magazine cover of a pregnant Demi Moore.
More significantly, she reveals the deep caring that she felt for Susan Sontag during their years together before Ms. Sontag succumbed to cancer. That painful downward path is thoroughly portrayed in rich texture.
The same theme of mortality is carried forth in a series of photographs of her parents that culminate in her father's death. Her mother's decline from a sprightly grandmother into an aging widow is also well documented.
Vibrant images of family life, siblings, nieces, and daughters help remind us that life is a never-ending cycle moving forward. One of my favorites is a landscape view of a roomful of family members celebrating her mother's 80th birthday as her mother takes a photograph of Ms. Leibovitz taking the photograph.
This delightful book contains four other elements that are worthy of mention.
Ms. Leibovitz is very aware that much of the appearance of celebrities is artifice rather than reality. She makes that point beautifully in the "before" and "after" images of Susan McNamara and Linda Green in Las Vegas in 1996 which show ordinary women transformed into "show girls." Even more eloquently, she captures that artifice in a single photograph of President George W. Bush and his key advisors at the start of his presidency looking like posed characters from a poster for a new move, Conquering Faultless Heroes of the White House.
Another astonishing dimension is her ability to turn landscapes into God's works of art. I agree with her assessment that the shooting in Monument Valley didn't turn out all that well, but the other landscapes in the book are terrific . . . if too few in number. I hope Ms. Leibovitz will do more of this kind of work in the future.
She has a strong sense of place to makes these landscapes work. That same sense works well in her photographs of stunning locations with buildings on them, such as her country home that she developed from a virtual ruin.
There's a sense of humor that's remarkable. Buildings seem to bring it out the best. The stunning Guggenheim museum in Bilbao is revealed in its mortal roots by a foreground of construction in progress.
9/11 also appears in images that capture the emotions we all felt on that day and immediately thereafter.
If I had to pick one photograph that best captures the book, it would be the cameo shot of Willie Nelson that highlights his personality and history through his deeply lined face.