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How Could This Happen to Annie Leibovitz?
August 19, 2009 11:03 AM   Subscribe

How Could This Happen to Annie Leibovitz? "This" being broke-ass-broke. More or less.
posted by chunking express (112 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Being incredibly talented has absolutely zero correlation with being able to handle money.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:10 AM on August 19, 2009 [15 favorites]


How Could This Happen to Annie Leibovitz? "This" being broke-ass-broke. More or less.

....Same way it happens to anyone who goes broke -- she spent beyond her income.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:11 AM on August 19, 2009 [9 favorites]


Absolutely, Tomorrowful. See also: Elton John and Aretha Franklin.
posted by orange swan at 11:11 AM on August 19, 2009


Gradually, and then suddenly.
posted by box at 11:12 AM on August 19, 2009 [18 favorites]


Her relationship with Mr. Warbucks went south?
posted by mhoye at 11:15 AM on August 19, 2009


How could it happen to MC Hammer?
posted by Naberius at 11:17 AM on August 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


"If she can’t meet that deadline, she may lose her homes"

It's amazing, though, how that one little 's' at the end there manages leech away so much of my sympathy.
posted by mhoye at 11:19 AM on August 19, 2009 [83 favorites]


From what I read in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago, when you don't like your neighbor the answer does not lie in buying their multi-million dollar townhouse at the height of the market to make them go away.
posted by readery at 11:20 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


The great thing about being me is that when I finally lose everything, a huge article analyzing my personal flaws and spending habits won't be published in a magazine. So at least there's that...
posted by hermitosis at 11:21 AM on August 19, 2009 [34 favorites]


I'm really trying, but it's hard for me to feel bad for her.
posted by orville sash at 11:21 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Being incredibly talented has absolutely zero correlation with being able to handle money.

But there's surely a relationship, on the other hand, between Annie Leibovitz becoming as successful as she was, and Annie Leibovitz being as extravagant as she was. The spending, the absurd cost of the photoshoots, etc, created a legend, gained her access nobody else would get — and presumably also contributed to the quality of the photos, so it's not like it's all a big illusion or something. In other words, if Annie Leibovitz had been frugal and careful with money by nature, she might not have become Annie Leibovitz.

I think that makes her current crisis "tragic" in the technical definition of the term. But her inability to do things like just sign the damn prints so that she can make a few hundred thousand dollars, or flying those notebooks over from Scandinavia, seems more like a psychological disorder.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:21 AM on August 19, 2009 [10 favorites]


Easily? Creative and financial skills have nothing to do with each other.

(My touchstone for all IronicEconomicsFAIL is William Pitt the Younger. How do you even get yourself into that much debt?!)
posted by thomas j wise at 11:22 AM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


People, even wealthy, talented people go broke. Call me when she grows a second head or gets abducted and held for ransom by sentient cows that escaped from a secret government lab. Then you can ask, "How Could This Happen to Annie Leibovitz?" Oh, and that company that specializes in making loans with art as collateral is a title pawn company for people with master's degrees. Neither higher education, nor artistic talent are a substitute for common sense.
posted by dortmunder at 11:24 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Then you can ask, "How Could This Happen to Annie Leibovitz?"

To be fair this is just New York magazine headline hyperventilating. It's actually a pretty good piece of investigative journalism that shows exactly how it happened...
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:25 AM on August 19, 2009


My touchstone for all IronicEconomicsFAIL is William Pitt the Younger.

I love you, MetaFilter.
posted by DU at 11:25 AM on August 19, 2009


If I remember rightly, a NYTimes article suggested a particularly demanding drug habit may have been a partial cause of financial difficulties. I hope she gets things straightened out.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:26 AM on August 19, 2009


....Same way it happens to anyone who goes broke -- she spent beyond her income.

Well yes, basically.

The article goes into some detail on this, and other facets of her life that some might find interesting if they are interested in her photography.
posted by chunking express at 11:26 AM on August 19, 2009


It's actually a pretty good piece of investigative journalism that shows exactly how it happened...

Gaddamit, game warden to the events rhino. Now I'm going to have to thoroughly read the article and do some research just to pick your statement apart. I had nothing better to do today anyway. Brb.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:28 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


hermitosis: "The great thing about being me is that when I finally lose everything, a huge article analyzing my personal flaws and spending habits won't be published in a magazine. So at least there's that..."

this is a good point. on the other hand, there's the fact that this is not the first time her financial woes have had sympathetic portraits in the press. If she can put her financial burdens out there to the public in the hopes of drumming up sympathy (and money!) then this is the unfortunate side effect.
posted by shmegegge at 11:29 AM on August 19, 2009


The great thing about being me is that when I finally lose everything, a huge article analyzing my personal flaws and spending habits won't be published in a magazine. So at least there's that...

The great thing about being ME is that when I DID lose everything, a huge article analyzing my personal flaws and spending habits wasn't published in a magazine. But I still have a chance of selling MY version of it to several magazines looking for that kind of thing.
posted by wendell at 11:31 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Add to Creative Beggars signs:

"Need to fly that Vermont guy over to Paris to fix my air conditioner."
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:33 AM on August 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


If I remember rightly, a NYTimes article suggested a particularly demanding drug habit may have been a partial cause of financial difficulties. I hope she gets things straightened out.

Those are her 70's and 80's addictions. More recently it's been the middle aged addiction (or the mo money, mo problems) addiction of rehabbing, and then buying all the adjoining properties in the village to make the perfect space.
posted by readery at 11:34 AM on August 19, 2009


Sounds like she may have to declare bankruptcy.
posted by orange swan at 11:35 AM on August 19, 2009


You know, eat the rich and all, but I thought when we dished on this months ago the issue was the estate taxes levied when her SO died (:(), bringing around a "If they had had a real "marriage" they wouldn't have burdened her with this tax liability, but they didn't, so here it goes".

Am I reading this right, then, that that was not the issue? Hrmph.
posted by cavalier at 11:36 AM on August 19, 2009


If any of the photography classes in college have taught me anything, it's that a famous photographer being broke ain't all that uncommon.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 11:40 AM on August 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Interesting. This is so like Michael Jackson, except with classier shit.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:40 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I thought when we dished on this months ago the issue was the estate taxes levied when her SO died

Yeah, no, Sontag left everything pretty much to her son.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:41 AM on August 19, 2009


As much as I'd love to know "How Could This Happen," I'm not going to read eight pages to find out. I expect to read the Cliff Notes on Perez in 3... 2...
posted by bpm140 at 11:41 AM on August 19, 2009


cavalier: Correct. She didn't inherit anything of value from Sontag (it all went to Sontag's son).
posted by orrnyereg at 11:43 AM on August 19, 2009


Awesome. I can get her for my wedding now.
posted by Magnus at 11:43 AM on August 19, 2009 [15 favorites]


As much as I'd love to know "How Could This Happen," I'm not going to read eight pages to find out. I expect to read the Cliff Notes on Perez in 3... 2...

She spent more than she was making, to the tune of 24 million.
posted by Pragmatica at 11:44 AM on August 19, 2009


"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery." - Charles Dickens.
posted by ND¢ at 11:45 AM on August 19, 2009 [21 favorites]


The Atlantic (man, has that publication gone downhill) assembled links and summaries of a number of articles regarding the issues surrounding Liebovitz's demise--including Goldman's piece.
posted by pokermonk at 11:48 AM on August 19, 2009


...the answer does not lie in buying their multi-million dollar townhouse at the height of the market to make them go away.

She didn't buy the neighbor's house to "make them go away."

From the FPP's article:
"For days, a crew had been digging below the townhouses to build the sub-basement. The ground beneath the buildings had actually been underwater until 1820, when landfill turned what had been the Hudson River into buildable land west of Hudson Street. In the midst of the excavation, the wall Leibovitz’s building shared with the little trapezoidal building at 311 West 11th Street groaned and sank several inches. The wall separated from the floors, leaving a gaping hole. Fire trucks encircled the scene, and Con Ed workers raced to locate and repair a burst gas line. Insurance covered much of the damage, but the young family next door, whose home was immediately condemned, sued Leibovitz. Under a settlement the parties reached in 2003, Leibovitz would have to purchase their home for $1.87 million."
posted by ericb at 11:51 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I expect to read the Cliff Notes on Perez in 3... 2...

She had Wesley Snipes' accountant.
posted by docgonzo at 11:51 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Correct. She didn't inherit anything of value from Sontag (it all went to Sontag's son).

Also from the FPP's article:
"When the state of Leibovitz’s finances later became public, outlets like Salon trumpeted the 'gay tax' theory, the idea that Leibovitz’s finances had been depleted by the taxes she’d had to pay on her inheritance from Sontag. That wasn’t true. With the exception of four items of only sentimental value, the bulk of Sontag’s estate went to David Rieff, Sontag’s only child. Leibovitz’s relationship with Sontag was not mentioned in Sontag’s New York Times obituary, and Leibovitz did not speak at Sontag’s memorial service."
posted by ericb at 11:53 AM on August 19, 2009


As much as I'd love to know "How Could This Happen," I'm not going to read eight pages to find out.

Wow. I mean, a topic about which you've expressed interest, but you can't be bothered to read "8 pages" on a website, which likely totals about 3-4 pages of actual magazine text? I bet you were a charmer when confronted with textbooks in school.

Next time, just put "tl;dr" and save your fingers the exercise.
posted by hippybear at 11:54 AM on August 19, 2009 [12 favorites]


The article is more interesting than "How could this happen? Answer: She spent too much!" It's a good read, detailing some of the deals she negotiated solo without reading the fine print. In combination with discussing her close family dying, etc., it's a really interesting story of the artist, lonely yet seemingly on top of things, perhaps unwilling/unable to ask for help, and how it's resulted in massive financial collapse and more importantly, in my opinion, loss of rights to her entire body of work. Anyway, I was new to hearing bout her situation, and found the article fascinating.
posted by NikitaNikita at 11:55 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and that company that specializes in making loans with art as collateral is a title pawn company for people with master's degrees.

That is EXACTLY what I thought when I read it. I don't care how many drugs you did in the past, how hopeless you are with money or how desperate you are, read the fine print for crissakes!

I think she sort of forgot that being an artist isn't the same as being rich and famous. Many artists believe that the whole money issue is something that only hacks worry about.

It slays me to think that a bit of oversight on her part could have prevented all of her problems. Of course the same could be said for all of us in regards to our problems.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:57 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


c.f. Michael Jackson, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Elton John...
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:01 PM on August 19, 2009


An engineer friend was just telling me yesterday about her brother - an award winning photographer from L.A. Very well known, does corporate work.

He is perpetually broke. He is in an extremely small niche market, and won't "sell out" in order to accommodate a broader demand for his talent.

Not the same problem as Liebovitz, but nevertheless. There's selling out, and there's selling out.

Many famous artists had/have an outside income, inheritance, or were/are impoverished.
posted by Xoebe at 12:01 PM on August 19, 2009


From what I read in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago, when you don't like your neighbor the answer does not lie in buying their multi-million dollar townhouse at the height of the market to make them go away.

Funny how the devil is in the details:

NYTimes: "During renovations, a neighbor sued her over a damaged wall. The neighbor withdrew the suit when Ms. Leibovitz bought his town house, her third, for $1.87 million. "

New York: "In the midst of the excavation, the wall Leibovitz’s building shared with the little trapezoidal building at 311 West 11th Street groaned and sank several inches. The wall separated from the floors, leaving a gaping hole. Fire trucks encircled the scene, and Con Ed workers raced to locate and repair a burst gas line. Insurance covered much of the damage, but the young family next door, whose home was immediately condemned, sued Leibovitz. Under a settlement the parties reached in 2003, Leibovitz would have to purchase their home for $1.87 million."
posted by smackfu at 12:07 PM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


She had Wesley Snipes' accountant.

Turns out "always bet on black" is not a sound investment strategy.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:07 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


My touchstone for all IronicEconomicsFAIL is William Pitt the Younger

If I learned nothing else today at least I found out he was prescribed a bottle of port per day, from the age of 14 - thank you MetaFilter. American MeFites: You don't get that on the NHS I can assure you.
posted by biffa at 12:07 PM on August 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Yes, of course her outgoings were greater than her income but what makes this interesting is it's like a car crash in very, very slow motion. She could have put the breaks on any number of projects, purchases etc. but didn't. Then she took out some loans to carry on spending, thus exacerbating the situation. Slow rot; that's what makes the article interesting.
posted by ob at 12:14 PM on August 19, 2009


Someday I hope to have the balls to give a giant FU to the world by posing in a way which negatively exaggerates my biggest flaw ( in her case a huge nose shot practically in profile with a harsh shadow ).
posted by digsrus at 12:18 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Business models like this remind me of Vegas. In Vegas, the casino/hotel can throw obscene amounts of money at useless and unprofitable things like buffetts and hotel rooms. The casino/hotel can spend rediculous sums of money on air conditioning the exterior of your building in a desert. The casino/hotel can see shows on par if not better than broadway in the middle of nowhere Nevada because even if the casino/hotel loose money in that direction, they make it up at the gambling tables. This works, because Vegas never stops - Vegas's eyes never leave the prize: your wallet. You are their client, and by the time you leave, statistically, so will a large portion of your money.

Elton John, Michael Jackson, and Annie Leibovitz all went to the extreme of their businesses, always pushing over the top. To Ms. Leibovitz's credit, her's invovled signficantly fewer rhinestones, but the point is: unlike vegas, she stopped. She stopped keeping her product as the focus, she stopped pushing pictures and boundaries, she stopped producing a product worth her expenses, and she pushed her expenses up and up and up. As horrible as it sounds, Vegas doesn't care if someone in your family dies. Vegas doesn't care if there is a delay in construction or an unaccounted for cost - it is business and capitalism and PT Barnum and Irving Berlin all rolled into one: There's a sucker born every minute and the show must go on. As cruel as it sounds, for Annie, the show stopped.

I'm sorry for her personal losses and I'm sorry for her financial loss, but that is tempered with a strong disgust at her lack of accountability and reason with 24 million dollars. Its money I will likely never see, nor would I ever think of spending. I find it tough to feel sorry for that much financial recklessness.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:23 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Interesting. This is so like Michael Jackson, except with classier shit."

Yes, Annie Liebovitz is actually a black man, born DeAndre Packer in Detroit, learned photography in the Muskegon Correctional Facility while doing a tenspot for armed robbery and assault. Life is what happens while you're making other plans...
posted by Naberius at 12:25 PM on August 19, 2009


How did this happen?

I know exactly how it happens:

"but as surprising as it may be to outsiders, she was clearly spending beyond her means."

"When Sarah started eating solid food, a rigorous journaling policy was instituted, in which every bite and bowel movement was to be committed to an unlined black notebook purchased from the Swedish stationer Ordning & Reda."

Ordning & Reda Basic Black Notebook Qty: 1 = 159 SEK or $22

"Leibovitz purchased the two adjacent Greek Revival–style townhouses on 11th Street near Greenwich Street in 2002 and immediately began converting them into a single residence."

"It was the Range Rover, the trips to Paris, the chef and housekeeper, the handyman, the personal yoga instructor, the terrace gardener, and the live-in nanny. There was only one man Leibovitz deemed qualified to work on anything involving air-conditioning or ductwork at either residence, and he lived in Vermont."

"Leibovitz also had tax problems. Because of income taxes the IRS said Leibovitz had failed to pay, the agency attached liens on her properties totaling $1.9 million in 2005 and 2006. Dutchess County records show that she had also neglected to pay more than $92,000 in 2005 property taxes for the Rhinebeck place."

Pay your taxes and buy notebooks from Staples.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:28 PM on August 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


The fundamental issue at the heart of this and countless other, similar stories isn't that folks lived beyond their means; that's like a physician explaining that someone died because their heart stopped beating.

No, we continually hear stories like this because we do such a piss poor job of teaching people about money.

How can folks graduate with degrees, solid educations and go on to successful professional careers, and yet not understand the power of compound interest? Some folks have called compound interest the most powerful force in the universe, and no mistake about it: this is a knife that cuts both ways.

Savers benefit. Regular savers, those contributing even very, very modest sums over a sufficiently long horizon at "reasonable" interest rate will see their savings grow to a very impressive pool of capital.

But if you're on the wrong side of compound interest and borrow, you will be appalled at how small debts snowball, double, perhaps even doubling again.

And if one doesn't understand compound interest then you simply don't have a chance at comprehending other possible investments, wether we're talking about non liquid assets such as property or liquid, marketable securities such as shares. You can't properly value money, so how could you understand the possible value of other investments, alternatives to cash?

We just don't do enough to prepare folks to handle money, so its no surprise that when many people come into money they either totally blow it or perhaps spend large percentages of it, eliminating any chances they might have had to achieve financial independence.

I've helped a lot of my friends, who have come into windfalls, handle their cash and the best advise I've passed along was the same in every instance: "put the cash someplace where you can't get at it for at least a year, hit the books and don't touch that money until you know what you're doing"

I'm sorry this happened and I don't really know in her case how she might fix it, other than get educated in matters financial. When it comes to money I trust myself first and foremost; folks get all weird about money so my advise is trust no one else when it comes to your money.

It really comes down to this - if you don't understand money, seriously understand at a deep level the cost of capital and compound interest, then nothing good will come of trying to invest in or structure other business deals.
posted by Mutant at 12:43 PM on August 19, 2009 [20 favorites]


The Atlantic (man, has that publication gone downhill)

To be fair, that's the Atlantic Wire, part of their online ventures.
Welcome to The Atlantic Wire, a new addition to our digital family that tracks the biggest debates as they happen. From the op-ed pages and the blogosphere to television, radio, and magazines, we follow hundreds of writers who are the leading producers of opinion and commentary.
Not dumping their normal coverage, just shifting to cover more of pop drama for their online audience.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:44 PM on August 19, 2009


Cocaine is a hell of a drug.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:46 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pay your taxes and buy notebooks from Staples.

... sod the notebooks, stop paying someone to write down every time your child takes a shit.
posted by fightorflight at 12:50 PM on August 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


It happens because they told her that she was the best, baby, the best.
posted by anniecat at 1:12 PM on August 19, 2009


Unfortunate story all around. I've always thought she was pretty talented (although when someone has a budget like she was renowned for having, it does raise questions and make it difficult to judge whether she was really in the same class as someone like Sontag; I think she was, but I know and respect people who think differently) but there is a "Behind the Music"-rockstar-meltdown-schadenfreude aspect to it: there are a lot of very talented photographers in the world, most of whom will never get the access or get to play with the resources that Leibovitz does and did.

However, game warden's comment is very much food for thought; if she hadn't lived and burned through cash so extravagantly, would she have been so successful? At some point, I'm sure her attitude—fuck it all, I'm going to get the shot—was probably a huge asset. But there's a point when it becomes a liability. She blew right past that point and kept on going, apparently for years.

There's definitely some stuff in the article that points to a level of obsessiveness that's clearly beyond healthy: the Swedish notebooks are the most glaring one. But it's hard to say whether without those personality traits she would have been the person who was able to climb so high.

Which brings it all back around to a question that seems to come up a lot whenever we see talented artists displaying something that looks suspiciously like mental illness (cf. Michael Jackson, Van Gough): if you could go back in time and remove it, would they still have been the artists we know them as? I've known people with diagnosed mental illness who have refused treatment because they think it nerfs their ability to do what they love to do, or removes their drive; it makes me wonder whether it's possible to separate the constructive and destructive tendencies in really talented but tightly-wound people.

I hope for her own and her family's sake that Leibovitz figures something out that avoids her losing the rights to her work. But I can't help thinking, if she does get some sort of deus ex machina loan from Goldman Sachs, about all the people who have gotten into financial trouble for far more defensible reasons than a desire to obsessively record their baby's shits in Swedish stationery, and aren't going to get saved by their rich connections.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:18 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


"She had Wesley Snipes' accountant."

I was going to go with "Always bet on black and white." myself.

But I'm slow today.
posted by rokusan at 1:29 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


More William Pitt The Younger! (Google Books 1891 biography)

Who cares about Leibovitz - this is a guy who met Adam Smith in person at dinner yet died heavily in debt. Thanks Thomas J Wise!
posted by benzenedream at 1:30 PM on August 19, 2009


I believe she used the copyright on her photographs as collateral for a loan, so a very talented artist may lose control of her work. I think she made some unwise choices, but the consequence is still distressing.
posted by theora55 at 1:33 PM on August 19, 2009


More recently it's been the middle aged addiction (or the mo money, mo problems) addiction of rehabbing, and then buying all the adjoining properties in the village to make the perfect space.

Oh no, that is a NYC version of what I plan to do when I strike it rich. But of course I'll try in vain to time the market.
posted by soelo at 1:34 PM on August 19, 2009


BTW -- an interesting snippet from last year's PBS documentary series Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work: Queen Elizabeth II being photographed by Annie Leibovitz at Buckingham Palace [video | 08:05].

BBC apologized for erroneously reporting that the Queen stormed out of the photo shoot with Leibovitz.

Also -- TIME magazine: 10 Questions for Annie Leibovitz.
posted by ericb at 1:39 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you go bankrupt, what happens to your copyrights?
posted by smackfu at 2:01 PM on August 19, 2009


What is her day rate? $100,000? I have zero sympathy for her. Lots of equally talented photographers never had her opportunities.

In fact, I've got...wait for it...Schadenfreude. Mmmm...sweet.
posted by mrhappy at 2:04 PM on August 19, 2009


How can folks graduate with degrees, solid educations and go on to successful professional careers, and yet not understand the power of compound interest?

"After the ad agency found out she’d lost an envelope containing several thousand dollars in a phone booth during their shoot, strings were finally pulled to get her a card."

We're not talking about IRAs vs. 401ks here. If I gave you $5,000 in an unmarked envelope, what are the odds that you would lose that envelope?

On Friday, October 11, 2002, Kellum was busy coordinating Sarah’s first birthday party, scheduled for the next day in Rhinebeck. The plans included a petting zoo and performances by hipster kiddie singer Dan Zanes and country singer Rosanne Cash, who was being flown in to sing Sarah’s favorite lullaby.

She pissed her money away. I don't really feel sorry for her, because I think she has plenty of assets to fall back on.

I was fairly unimpressed with the article. It's well-researched and well-written, but I was hoping for something more interesting. This seems like standard "spending more than you make" and "leveraging your debt too much" to me.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:06 PM on August 19, 2009


I'd like to second gamewarden's comment:

"In other words, if Annie Leibovitz had been frugal and careful with money by nature, she might not have become Annie Leibovitz."

When it comes to being a professional photographer - the most important thing of all is to keep your overhead down. Yes, this simple concept seems so blatantly obvious when you write it down, but I can't count the number of times I've heard this from photographers in New York. The way that billing works in this industry will seriously warp any rational understanding of money, and unless you repeat that mantra over and over, this will happen:

You get booked for a big shoot. Its going to be expensive - models, location, sets, everything. So you bill for an advance. The check comes - 'wow, here's 10 grand!' So you spend it immediately, usually to pay off people from the last job, rent, etc. It never goes to the actual expenses for the upcoming job. Never. Then the job rolls around. Plane tickets, per diem, it all keeps adding up. The shoot goes long, everyone starts going into overtime. This is a given, not just for perfectionists like Annie, but for everyone simply because the client wants more shots can be taken in a single 10 hour day. Yes - overtime starts after 10 hours. So it goes late, and the money keeps adding up. After the shoot, post-production starts. Most of those kinds of things are billed directly to the clients, so even if it is extravagantly expensive, in your mind it might as well cost $0 because you're not paying for it. Finally the job is finished. Add up all the receipts and invoices, submit your own, and then wait.

Waiting to get paid - it takes 60 days minimum to get paid in this industry. During which time you're financing other shoots, spending more money. And then the check shows up. Its huge! Its the most massive amount of money in a single check! Just that number, wow. Sadly, it starts to get whittled down. 25% to your agent. Most of the check was actually allocated for expenses, so that all gets taken out. So you're left with 50% of the amount on the check. But wait, there's overhead to pay. Studio rental, home rent, camera leases, staff, etc. Thankfully you're still ok. That is, until April. Most people have taxes taken out of their checks. Freelancers are rarely prudent (or able) enough to stash away 30% or more, so when tax time rolls around, WOW. I really owe that much? All at once? Thankfully you just finished that big job and got paid, so that entire check can pay off the taxes in one fell swoop. Phew. Except most of that check was ALREADY SPOKEN FOR.

That all sounds dramatic but it is the reality for freelancers. If you take that foundation, add a healthy dose of requisite fabulousness (and yes, it counts for a lot), it is really no wonder that things got that bad. All those expenses for shoots were doubled or tripled simply because of the nature of the client and the expectation of celebrity. Perception is everything.

I have the utmost respect for Annie's work. She is an artist to her core and produces consistently amazing work while operating under intense pressure and scrutiny, and difficult conditions. People talk about this impending bankruptcy as if it is the end of the world. Like she is just going to hang up the camera and move into a trailer in Arkansas. If anything, getting rid of all that dead weight is the most pressing, important thing. She can focus on her art, on the work, which is what it was always about in the first place. That's what got her to where she is today, and that is what will remain after she is gone. Finances are a footnote to the great art of our time. As it should be.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 2:10 PM on August 19, 2009 [16 favorites]


What is her day rate? $100,000?

Um, from the article itself:
"She was said to earn a day rate of $250,000 just to set foot in a studio for an advertising job for clients like Louis Vuitton."
posted by ericb at 2:14 PM on August 19, 2009


My ex-girlfriend's uncle is a restoration architect who worked on Liebovitz's Greenwich Village and Rhinebeck properties. When she–my ex, not Liebovitz–graduated from college in 2006, Uncle asked Leibovitz if he could host a graduation party at the Rhinebeck house, which was only a few minutes away from campus. This is the one that the FPP article describes as "a compound . . . once owned by the Astor family."

The restored buildings were gorgeous–a masonry farmhouse and a converted barn with heavy wooden and iron doors straight out of the Lord of the Rings. Gabled roofs, spires on the barn, slate shingles, the whole bit. I remember that it was really hot out out that afternoon, but those thick stone walls kept the temperature 20 degrees cooler in the houses than outside, where my ex's family and her housemates' families were lounging around this sprawling idyllic property. We sat there, gorging on the fancy catered food Uncle had arranged for, and drinking down gallons of champagne and Grolsch swingtops.

The heat and booze took hold and I passed out under a willow tree next to the lake. A short while later my girlfriend nudged me awake to point at golf cart barreling down the path by us. A middle-aged woman and a girl cruised by and waved: Annie and her daughter. That was all we saw of her, and we gossiped like idiots for a few minutes before descending back into muggy drunkenness and "No--YOU'RE the best"s.

So I don't know exactly what to draw from this experience. This was May 2006, and the article says that the shit really hit the fan for Leibovitz's finances right around then. She massively overspent, that's for sure. But damn if it wasn't nice of her to let a few dozen strangers descend on her home to celebrate their accomplishment. And damn if I ever felt more like Nick Carraway.
posted by andromache at 2:20 PM on August 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


I don't really feel bad for her about being broke, and I REALLY don't feel bad that she'll probably lose the rights to her shit. I heard this on NPR the other day, and the terms of that loan were just beyond any rational or thinking person. Multi-million dollars, payable in full, after one year. The mind reels.
posted by absalom at 2:20 PM on August 19, 2009


ericb: "What is her day rate? $100,000?

Um, from the article itself:
"She was said to earn a day rate of $250,000 just to set foot in a studio for an advertising job for clients like Louis Vuitton."
"

from the same article:
The rumored $250,000 day rate to do an advertising job also appears to have been greatly exaggerated. “It’s not half that,” says a source with direct knowledge of Leibovitz’s finances.
posted by shmegegge at 2:22 PM on August 19, 2009


"When Sarah started eating solid food, a rigorous journaling policy was instituted, in which every bite and bowel movement was to be committed to an unlined black notebook purchased from the Swedish stationer Ordning & Reda."

Ordning & Reda Basic Black Notebook Qty: 1 = 159 SEK or $22


The problem wasn't that A.L. was buying $22 blank notebooks. According to the article, the problem was her lack of impulse control to the point where she was paying $800.00 shipping to fly the damn things from Sweden to NY, essentially the notebook had its own seat on the plane.
posted by webhund at 2:23 PM on August 19, 2009


Um, from the article itself:
"She was said to earn a day rate of $250,000...


This was refuted toward the end of the article, as "not half that."
posted by small_ruminant at 2:25 PM on August 19, 2009


Just an explanation - day rates are usually a token fee. The real money is in usage. A photographer may make a day rate of 5k but usage can add up to much, much more. 250k is not out of the question. But the quote from the article "its not half that" is a joke. Of course the day rate is not half that, except they left out the part about her making many times that in usage fees.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 2:36 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the distinction and would love to know what a usage fee is. I'm being perfectly serious.
posted by shmegegge at 2:45 PM on August 19, 2009


From the ASMP site:

"This fee is determined by how the client is using the photographs. Typically, the larger the audience for a specific use, the higher the usage or licensing fee. For example, a photograph used in a print and web ad campaign for a consumer product would have a much higher licensing fee than a photograph used in a business-to-business company brochure — the former has an audience in the millions, the latter perhaps a few thousand.

More Use = Higher Fee
Remember that this part of your overall price is not affected by how difficult the photograph is to execute or what the production expenses are. Those issues are calculated elsewhere. This fee is all about the use by the client. It is possible for a photograph, executed with minimal expenses or expertise, to generate an extremely high licensing fee. The point here is the use, not what it took to create the image."



So basically, the day rate has to do with how tough it was to take the shot, production expenses cover all the set costs for the shoot, and usage has to do with how many people will see the images.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 2:55 PM on August 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


thanks for the info.
posted by shmegegge at 3:07 PM on August 19, 2009


The article makes her sound thoughtless, horrible, and completely lacking in common sense. It leaves me wondering how people put up with her shit for long enough that she could manage to get this poor and famous.
posted by padraigin at 3:08 PM on August 19, 2009


Being incredibly talented has absolutely zero correlation with being able to handle money.
in that case I must be way more talented than previously thought.
posted by krautland at 3:27 PM on August 19, 2009


How Could This Happen to Annie Leibovitz?

The same way it happened to a shitload of other people:

money spent > money earned
posted by futureisunwritten at 3:36 PM on August 19, 2009


Geez a lot of literalist responses here. Yes, famous artists can go broke, etc. I think the question in the post was merely rhetorical.

What's more disturbing to me than her running out of money is the way she mortgaged rights to her work, and then defaulted. This "lender of last resort" now has a claim on all her work. And that is still an outrageous shame (even if you admit it is technically possible within the bounds of time and space).
posted by scarabic at 3:36 PM on August 19, 2009


smackfu: " If you go bankrupt, what happens to your copyrights?"

They get assigned to whomever gets control of the asset. Right now, Goldman Sachs (who underwrote the deal) is trying to assume control of Art-Capital's rights, which were assigned by AL either without showing the contract to anyone or having it reviewed by a small army of lawyers, depending on you you believe.

I like this comment from the nymag site: ""Classic case of Long-Term Grandiose Personality Disorder with a frosting of Extreme Narcissism ... an East-coast version of the Michael Jackson Story, but without the plastic surgeries."
posted by psyche7 at 3:40 PM on August 19, 2009


for a while back there in the 70s, i was obsessed with annie leibovitz. as far as i'm concerned, she works magic with portraits--and i carried several rolling stone covers (james taylor & carly simon & the blues brothers) around with me from apartment to apartment for years. i tried to find out info on her back then, but either *she* wasn't newsworthy or i'm just a lousy stalker. whatever, she remained a mystery to me until her photographs book came out in the 90s. i'm still amazed at what wonderful work she does.

reading this article (and thanks for the link, chunking express) i come away with the feeling that i really don't have any right to know these things about her financial situation. but i also feel like i know one reason i've always liked her so much: she's got some classic addict behavior going on there.
posted by msconduct at 3:49 PM on August 19, 2009


I believe she used the copyright on her photographs as collateral for a loan, so a very talented artist may lose control of her work.
I get the impression that lots of banks come to artists offering to loan them millions and asking for their intellectual property as collateral because the banks know that the borrowers will have a high probability of defaulting. The banks don't want to collect the interest on the loan: they want to foreclose on the loan and take possession of the collateral.

I'd imagine that Leibovitz and Michael Jackson both had dozens of bankers banging down their doors offering to loan them all the money they wanted if only they'd sign on the dotted line giving the banks the right to take possession of their IP... and if the artists started to show indications of financial instability, the banks would be quick to lend them even more if they'd put up additional collateral.
posted by deanc at 3:52 PM on August 19, 2009


> other words, if Annie Leibovitz had been frugal and careful with money by nature, she might not have become Annie Leibovitz

But now she is Annie Leibovitz and so should be able to do great work and get it noticed even while living in a coldwater flat or the homeless shelter. (Though not, probably, great work for for Louis Vuitton any longer.) I hope and expect that her art will become greater as she discovers austerity.
posted by jfuller at 3:55 PM on August 19, 2009


I'm not surprised by rich people spending dumbly, but I wonder if her reasoning was especially cloudy recently due to loosing Susan?
posted by serazin at 3:57 PM on August 19, 2009


scarabic: "within the bounds of time and space."

That's where the legal system works. My impression from the satisfyingly juicy (without going too much into the coke thing) article is that AL was a symptom of the extreme excesses of our latest Gilded Age.

Si Newhouse and Conde Nast, it turns out, had been giving interest-free loans to their executive staff and favorite employees (Graydon Carter and AL, for two). In fact, a loan to Carter has terms calling for it to be paid in 231 years. So one angle is that C-N (which is under very heavy pressure to cut expenses) is calling in some of their largesse.

It appears that Art Capital tried to sell AL's copyrights to Getty but only got a $15 million offer. AL's real estate may be worth $20 million or so, but the banks and other people own the loans. So looks like A-C gave her a $24 million "loan" and got all her assets including all artistic copyrights, the houses and furniture.

Also from the article:

"Last year, Rieff published Swimming in a Sea of Death, a memoir of his mother’s battle with cancer. He mentions Leibovitz’s name exactly twice in the book, once to describe her pictures of his dead and dying mother as “carnival images of celebrity death.”
posted by psyche7 at 4:05 PM on August 19, 2009


The article makes her sound thoughtless, horrible, and completely lacking in common sense.

Despite her high flying celebrity, she's always found time to do things like be a visible supporter of our favorite radio station, WFMU.

It seems her Waterloo came when she decided to excavate the sub-basement of an old building sitting on a foundation of unknown constitution. Bad move. That's the first thing you will eventually learn the hard way about old buildings: don't pick at it too much, you'll find that there's nothing there behind the enclosing shell.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:09 PM on August 19, 2009


So basically, the day rate has to do with how tough it was to take the shot, production expenses cover all the set costs for the shoot, and usage has to do with how many people will see the images.

Day rate is like a creative fee, but also covers the photographer's time and some overhead that isn't directly billable in the way that production expenses are. Usage sort of has to do with how many people will see the images, but also concerns in what context the pictures are seen. An example: a photo is licensed for a quarter page inside of an editorial magazine with a circulation of 1 million and the usage fee might be US$500. But, that same picture, the very same, might be used on a quarter page of an advertising brochure, also for US$500. Advertising usage is more expensive than editorial usage which is more expensive than personal usage. There are tons of other types of usages, too. A program such as fotoquote helps freelancers determine usage fees in hundreds of variations. Assignment photography usually involves day rates, usage fees, and expenses. Stock photography sales invoke just usage fees (and a fee for exclusivity, and sometimes, though now very rare, a research fee paid to the stock house for devoting time pulling stock from an archive). And it's hard to say exactly what is covered by fees in microstock (usually a dollar or less per picture, some stock houses have even tried free stock as a business model...and failed) and royalty free stock sales (in which the buyer pays a one time fee, usually much lower than even a single picture's small editorial stock sale, and is given license to use the picture as often as the buyer wants in whatever context the buyer wants in perpetuity).
posted by msbrauer at 4:40 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Piss off, @hippybear.

You're right. I expressed an interest in "How could this happen to Annie Leibovitz?" and I was hoping for something a little more interesting than "she spends too much." "She spends too much" gets two paragraphs of time, not eight pages. I stopped reading last paragraph, page one:

"Leibovitz was born in 1949, in Waterbury, Connecticut. Her father, Sam, joined the Air Force after an unsuccessful stint in the fashion business..."

I have no interest in reading seven pages about Leibovitz's life and poor impulse control. But hey, thanks for your insightful personal critique. This must be some of that charm you were referring to.
posted by bpm140 at 5:09 PM on August 19, 2009


if Annie Leibovitz had been frugal and careful with money by nature, she might not have become Annie Leibovitz.

And if Leonard Cohen had been as extravagant as Annie Leibovitz, he wouldn't have been Leonard Cohen. Guess which one I have sympathy for?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:16 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love how some people in here are actually suggesting that owning multiple homes is somehow essential to the art process. ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH ART IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM MY FRIENDS
posted by tehloki at 5:40 PM on August 19, 2009


Okay. So she is an idiot savant.
posted by bz at 6:45 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have no interest in reading seven pages about Leibovitz's life and poor impulse control.

At least you still found time to shit in the thread about the article you have no intentions of reading. Did you get bored over at Perez?
posted by hermitosis at 6:55 PM on August 19, 2009


Why do people comment on articles they didn't even read?

Is this that proud, anti-intellectual American ignorance thing again?

I'll never understand that.
posted by rokusan at 7:10 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who thinks her pictures are sublimated garbage? I mean, obviously, she has been important in the blurring of advertising and "content". But what she has done has nothing to do with art. There is no life in her pictures. No real imagination either. Just photogenic soulless garbage. That doesn't mean she deserves to be broke, of course.
posted by MrMisterio at 7:16 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Me, I'm good at saving money. Unfortunately my lack of talent means that I don't make much of it.

Interesting article, even if I disagree with the suggestion that her extravagance played an integral role in her success or artistic fulfillment - triple time lab fees and intricate sets are one thing, shipping in Roseanne Cash to sing a lullaby, notebooks to record poopies, and a A/C repairman from Virginia, quite another.

BURNS: Well I hope the investors like it. I have to raise sixty million dollars or we're out of business.
SMITHERS: Why is that, sir?
BURNS: I told you, I pissed it away! Oh, don't make that face.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:40 PM on August 19, 2009


Thanks MrMisterio. I was starting to think I'm the only person totally unmoved by her photography. She seems to specialize in taking pictures of famous rich people. How does that make her a good artist exactly?

Are there any photographers in this discussion that can explain to me why I should respect her as a photographer? No sarcasm, for real.
posted by Bobby Bittman at 8:15 PM on August 19, 2009


MrMisterio, I'm not a fan of what she's done recently, but her photos from the 70s-80s are quite good. She has a pretty big body of work. That photo of Arnold on a horse topless smoking a cigar is hype.
posted by chunking express at 8:35 PM on August 19, 2009


If you look at a retrospective of her work, there is a lot more to it than photoshopped composite photos of a-list celebrities. I think she needs to get back to shooting the way she did before. She seems to rely a bit too much on photochop now. Her photos have this weird uncanny valley thing going, now.

She shot John Lennon and Yoko Ono for the cover of Rolling Stones. That's a great shot, and should get you a few good photographer points.
posted by chunking express at 8:48 PM on August 19, 2009


You know what? I just can't be arsed to feel sorry for someone who dug themselves 24 million dollars into debt. If it was to save her life, or the life of a love one, I would. But, this is bullshit. People who make lots of money, spent way fucking more than they make, then we're supposed to feel sorry for them?

When they are coming offering me money, or even thinking of those of us who could never run up a 24 million dollar debt, maybe then I will. For now, I'll go back to trying to figure out how to come up with the money to fix my husband's 12 year old car that was hit by 2 deer, one week apart. Or figure out how to pay for my medications over the next 3 months. Or how to find a place to live closer to his work. Or a hundred other things.

Fuck those who run up massive debt to the point of millions of dollars then expect us poor slobs to feel a tiny bit of sympathy for them.
posted by SuzySmith at 9:18 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also really dislike Annie's work. Most of it feels lifeless to me. Symbols are heavy-handed, quality is slick, it just doesn't feel like it has any depth most of the time. Even compared to other advertising it feels kind of dead to me. A number of years ago she donated her work to the SF AIDS Foundation and took a series of pictures of regular folks with HIV for one of their campaigns. Great project, great idea, and still her photos just didn't speak to me.
posted by serazin at 10:02 PM on August 19, 2009


Fuck those who run up massive debt to the point of millions of dollars then expect us poor slobs to feel a tiny bit of sympathy for them.

Well, we don't actually know what Annie Leibovitz wants us to think of what has happened. Besides, her millions of dollars isn't really any difference than someone who racks up tens of thousands of dollars on credit card debt on a much smaller income - relatively speaking.

I think the article is interesting not because of its hyperbolic title, since the answer to that is easy - as everyone has pointed out. I think it's interesting that she allowed herself to get into this mess, she was enabled by people who kept lending her money and by employers who bent to her every whim.

And it's utterly tragic that she has mortgaged the rights to her life's work to merely consolidate her debts - not even to pay them out. So soon enough, Annie Leibovitz may no longer own the rights to her own work. I don't care how foolish she's been, nobody should have to live through that.
posted by crossoverman at 10:31 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


She's responsible for her own actions, certainly, but it bugs me that employers freaked out about her expenses and her perfectionism while continuing to employ her and expect (what everyone apparently agrees are) almost supernaturally exceptional photos. Really good creative work takes a lot of time, a lot of trial and error and, arguably, a degree of fanaticism. That's just the way it is. Capitalism seems to insist that it can be produced with an assembly line approach. It can't.

I'm reminded of music companies and agents who want their performers to put out the kinds of songs that make teenagers willing to stand in line for three days to get concert tickets, but then are horrified when the musicians in question turn out to be heroin addicts or inclined towards underage tail. It's like they think that all work is equal and that the act of producing it has no effect on the worker, that The Jonas Brothers and Kurt Cobain are interchangeable.

Oh, and speaking of addicts, let's be honest here; raise your hands if you think that, during her coke phase, no editor or publisher or supervisor ever facilitated Leibovitz's acquisition of product just so she could make it to deadline?

I went to a college that was trying very hard to increase their number of applicants. One of the things they offered was a "prospective student" weekend; a high school kid would spend a Friday and Saturday rooming with a current student at the university, going to classes and, if s/he so desired, going to parties and getting fucked up. Officially, the school had no idea the latter took place. They would have been shocked, shocked, I say, to discover that these poor innocent high school kids were chemically recreating. But they knew, I knew, and everyone knew that it was as much the social life offered by the school as its academic program that would pull these kids in. So the administration got their customers' mouths watering by showing them the sausage, but never knew (wink wink) how it was made.

Is Leibovitz a nutjob? Possibly. Reckless? In need of help? For the sake of discussion, let's assume so. But she's had plenty of enablers over the years and most of them are sitting on the boards of the corporations she's worked for.
posted by Clay201 at 6:59 AM on August 20, 2009


This is just armchair psycho-analysis but she does seem to show signs of either ADHD (which a lot of artists have) or obsessive compulsive disorder.
posted by Ber at 8:53 AM on August 20, 2009


a series of pictures of regular folks with HIV

(what everyone apparently agrees are) almost supernaturally exceptional photos

This is what I'm talking about. Take the famous people out of her photos and they're not supernaturally exceptional. They're not even exceptional. They're boring.
posted by Bobby Bittman at 9:33 AM on August 20, 2009


In response to those who don't respect Annie's work: it is ok to not be a fan of that style of photography. But to say that she 'just takes pictures of famous people' is laughable. The dynamics of that kind of photo shoot would make your head explode.

You've got the photographer. And the celebrity. But wait, there's also the magazine editor. Scratch that, 3 editors. They all want things to be a certain way. Oh, except there is the celebrity's agent, and whatever project they're working on, PR people from that. Then you've got the art director, creative director from the ad agency AND a team from the actual client, a team of hair and makeup stylists, their assistants. The photographer's assistants. The production team who is managing the set building and the prop stylists. The digital techs who manage the workflow, the lab who takes orders on the match prints. Its a lot of people, a lot of attitudes and expectations, all managed by the photographer who in a sense is a director.

And THEN, on the day of the shoot, it rains. WTF? How is this all supposed to happen, no rain days allowed, we're screwed. So the photographer tightens down, pulls out all the lights to make it look like a sunny day. And not just a weak attempt at a sunny day, but a real, bonafide sunny day replica down to the shafts of light coming through a cracked window. AND on top of that, IN THE SAME STYLE that everyone thinks is so boring. Because that's what they hired her for. The light is everything, and it will never be perfect - it must be shaped into perfection at great technical skill.

So you don't like her style, that's subjective. But the way that she pulled off those shoots, those moments that are so iconic, have so little to do with the subjects of the photographs (which is what is most recognizable to the average viewer) and so much to do with the actual shoot dynamics. Almost no one can operate at the level she does under the amount of pressure that everyone there puts on her shoulders. If you know photography, you respect Annie. That doesn't mean that you have to like her or her work, but what she has done, the iconic images she has produced year after year without stumbling, it has changed the expectation of what photography can be and how it can represent people not just on the cover of magazines but everywhere. There is no one like her shooting today. That is a fact, not an opinion.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 11:27 AM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


I have no doubt of her technical competence infinitefloatingbrains, I just think her work is shitty in artistic terms.
posted by serazin at 7:21 PM on August 20, 2009


Here's a fun followup: Italian Photographer Sues Leibovitz Over Photo Backgrounds.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:14 PM on September 8, 2009


"The deadline to pay back the [$24 million] loan is 11:59 p.m. Tuesday [today, September 8]. It's unclear what will happen if the deadline passes without the loan being repaid.

Neither side would say Tuesday whether they were meeting or if an agreement was possible. Representatives for both Leibovitz and the art lending company had made no public statements by the afternoon." *
posted by ericb at 6:06 PM on September 8, 2009


The dynamics of that kind of photo shoot would make your head explode.
which is why she has an army of assistants, producers, location managers, all that.

are you kidding me? the complexity of a production has no bearing on the value of either a photographer or a photograph. I expect a photog bidding on a job to be able to pull off that job she assured me she was capable of handling or there will be a big fucking problem come payday.

But the way that she pulled off those shoots, those moments that are so iconic,
first: every spontaneous moment is always staged. it's like "natural light" in a movie. there just isn't. all light is artificial. looks like a beautiful sunset through the window? not real.

second: that's called a treatment. you write a treatment in which you promise you can do X for Y and then you better be able to follow through. she gets hired because her treatments are nice and people know she is capable of producing a predictable result. she is a commercial photographer, not an artist. the difference is that she is being hired to produce something I know will work and is better than I could do myself. unlike with a noncommercial artist I do not want a surprise.

Almost no one can operate at the level she does under the amount of pressure that everyone there puts on her shoulders.
except nadav kander, chase jarvis, steffen jahn, tom nagy, christian stoll, george simhoni, christian weber, markus mueller, robert wilson, camilla akrans and about 15,000 other commercial photographers. shit, this is what photography curriculi at art schools teaches you. that's why you assist with a good one for a few years.

the iconic images she has produced
her work has very little artistic value. she is not ansel adams. she is a person who makes people look predictably good. she is a good craftsperson, not an outstandingly imaginative artist.

it has changed the expectation of what photography can be
bull. fucking. shit.

you were wrong to shit on omnicom and you are wrong again this time.
posted by krautland at 10:13 AM on September 9, 2009


I am not a slavering Leibovitz fan or anything, but I think you're creating a false dichotomy with "she is a person who makes people look predictably good. she is a good craftsperson, not an outstandingly imaginative artist."

And Ansel Adams made rocks and trees and clouds look predictably good.

In fact, I'm pretty sure he'd be among the first people to tell you that the distinction you're creating between "art" and "craft" is false. It doesn't exist. Or—at best—it's subjective and practically a matter of taste, and you might as well just say that it's "good art" and "bad art" and be done with it.

It's fine to say that her work is not to your liking, or that her fame and notoriety are disproportionate to her skill as an artist and have more to do with luck and connections, but saying ‘so-and-so is a technician, not an artiste,’ is pretty weak sauce. Unless you actually are accusing someone of working according to a formula, automaton-like—in which case you should say that directly—it's just a sneering way to damn with faint praise.

The undertone about commercial photographers basically not being real artists is also pretty tired. I mean, really, post-Warhol, you want to crap on commercial art? Just because someone's starving in a garret doesn't mean their work is going to be any good.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:10 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


And Ansel Adams made rocks and trees and clouds look predictably good.
not at all. the key difference is that annie is hired to make an image that fits in with a certain proposition. it's like hiring a dentist because he can take care of a very specific job you need done. that's admirable but not artistry. ansels point was to surprise: to show something you had seen in a way you hadn't and didn't expect to. there is no planned use for it, no predetermined purpose.

art never expresses anything but itself. annies photos are the opposite.

you want to crap on commercial art
not at all. I am crapping on the false idea of someone being an artist because they plan well. that has nothing to do with it. I am also crapping on the notion of passing commercial work without any artistic merit to it off as art because we put art on a higher pedestal. also note that I hire and work with commercial photographers, some artists and some craftsmen, all the time. I choose who to hire for each job based on what I need. annie? definitely craft category.

Unless you actually are accusing someone of working according to a formula, automaton-like
step 1: write treatment. person looks good, nearly nothing out of focus. situation evenly light. throw in as much stuff as you can. choose already intriguing landmark if possible.
step 2: execute.
step 3: retouch to existing color profile (lush dark tones, flat highlights)
step 4: hand off, charge.

I don't sneer at annie. she found a niche that works for her. fine. I sneer at people who mistake her work for something that it's not. there's a reason there was such a ruckus at moca when her paid show was to hang there for a bit. there's a reason museums don't buy a lot of her shots.
posted by krautland at 1:57 AM on September 10, 2009


I think people are looking at what she's done in the last 10 years or so, and assuming that's her entire body of work. The photos she shot for Rolling Stone are great. And they aren't all crazy retouched montages. I also think her portraits from the 80s are quite good.
posted by chunking express at 7:25 AM on September 10, 2009


Art's a matter of taste of course - so I would never say she's NOT an artist. But I can definitly say she's not to my taste. I've seen lots and lots of her photos - old and new, commercial and, well, less commercial, and very little of it says anything to me. The photos of HIV positive San Franciscan's I linked to upthread seem like they really should say SOMETHING - the subjects are so compelling, but yet the work just feels hollow.

Like others here, I appreciate her technical expertise. Some of her photos amuse me. Some are nice to look at. Almost none actually evoke emotion though. None make me think of the subject in a new way. Good art, to me, must be on some level transformational and for me, her work isn't.
posted by serazin at 10:58 AM on September 10, 2009


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