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How Annie Got Shot
December 5, 2010 11:58 AM   Subscribe

How Annie Got Shot. A look at the market for fine art photography and the sorry-state of Annie Leibovitz's finances.

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posted by chunking express (36 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
NYMag has an interesting story the other day on Tom Barrick at Colony Capital who built his fortune on buying distressed real estate and has now decided his next goldmine is going to be buying the future cash flows from financial distressed celebrity's intellectual property. He bailed out Leibovitz's. The FT article was def interesting. I didn't realize she was relatively little thought of in the fine art photography world.

NYMag article : Monetizing The Celebrity Meltdown
posted by JPD at 12:06 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


is she the female answer to ANSEL ADAMS?
posted by tustinrick at 12:08 PM on December 5, 2010


Uh, no.
posted by Chichibio at 12:23 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


leibovitz has always been a very high-priced commercial photographer. hiring her to do your campaign is akin to hiring joe pytka to direct your commercial - you end up losing a lot of control and it'll blow your budget but if the client absolutely wants them you have no choice. I never got why ogilvy nyc loves to work with them so much.

art on the other hand it most certainly isn't. art never expresses anything but itself. annie's work is about expressing professional execution. she's a really good craftsman but hardly artistically inspired. anyone wishing to disagree is asked to link to an actually challenging image of hers - once that shows a scene in her particular&unique vision.
posted by krautland at 1:03 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


JPD, that's a fascinating article on Tom Barrick and a great addition to the link in the post.
posted by immlass at 1:12 PM on December 5, 2010


art on the other hand it most certainly isn't. art never expresses anything but itself.


What an odd statement. It flies in the face of almost the entirety of art history. It's a decidedly modern one, but, even then, I would say has reflected a minority viewpoint in modern art.

Take a walk through a gallery. Almost everything there has a function beyond merely being a work of art. I'll give you just one example: Ukiyo-e prints from Japan, which fetch quite good prices nowadays on the art market, which were, in many cases, pretty much celebrity portraits, and some were meant primarily as pornography.

Heck, some of Keith Haring's most valuable pieces were created to raise awareness of AIDS.

Annie has suffered because the art market has, for the moment,d ecided she's not art. A day after she dies, she'll be avidely sought by galleries. What she creates may not always be good art, but it is most definately art.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:18 PM on December 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


From the article: "despite all her celebrity and talent, Leibovitz lacks earning power as an artist"

That's a bit misleading, since Leibovitz does pretty well for herself as a photographer (special thanks to her celebrity and talent).

Most of that money is made in creating new work—a strategy that's inefficient at generating huge sums of money quickly. Which is what Leibovitz needs because of—what's been reported as—the burden of property unrelated to her primary income generation.

Now she's having to utilize the art collection market that she's previously avoided.

And yeah, as the article points out, her value in that market is tied somewhat to her marketing in it. But it's also because her work's value is not at its optimum in the collection market (I think krautland's argument touches on this point). That doesn't mean it can't or won't be collected at high values, just that there's no pressure to obtain it, since the general supply is always increasing and she hasn't produced anything uniquely noteworthy whose purchase needs immediacy.

If she were to create something seminal and challenging, it would have plenty of value today, even given the way she relates to the market.

But none of this means that she is or isn't currently/capable of earning as an artist. It's just that her brand isn't designed to do it in this particular way.
posted by pokermonk at 1:43 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


art never expresses anything but itself.

What an odd statement.


It's not even a parsable statement to me. What does it mean? How does something "express itself"? When we talk about a person trying to express himself, we mean he's trying to communicate, as in "John was so confused, he was unable to express himself clearly."

But that meaning doesn't make sense in the sentence "art never expresses anything but itself."

Do you mean art is never utilitarian? (Art exists for art's sake.) Is Leibovitz's work not work because it was made for a purpose: to sell things?

The problem with that idea is that it implies that an art object has the mystical ability to contain its own history. Art can't have a purpose, because in order to have a purpose, you have to be a sentient being. An artIST can have a purpose, but he can't put that purpose in his art.

In the case of a specific work of art, SOME viewers might be able to make a good educated guess as to why the artist made to work. (They may be right or wrong.) Some viewers (e.g. me) might not care why they artist made it. They just receive it as an object, and it affect them in certain ways or doesn't.
posted by grumblebee at 1:48 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Annie has suffered because the art market has, for the moment,d ecided she's not art. A day after she dies, she'll be avidely sought by galleries. What she creates may not always be good art, but it is most definately art.

Meh. She started out in celebrity photojournalism and graduated to celebrity fashion shoots, where 99% of the time the celebrities and the fashion are interchangeable. Whereas Anne Geddes has babies and flower pots, Annie Liebovitz has gaggles of airbrushed starlets in enormous flowing gowns.

She's never had much art cred to begin with, which is really the problem she faces when she tries to tap the collector's market. Hell, even the mere fact that she is apparently turning to art collectors solely for monetary gain is a mark against her.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:02 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


It sounds to me like Annie shot herself by living well beyond her means.
posted by borges at 2:03 PM on December 5, 2010 [17 favorites]


Hers is a typically American story of irresponsibly using debt to fund more luxury real estate acquisition than her income could comfortably handle.

Her career and fame is based in magazines, a medium that doesn't exactly create an aura of rarity, unlike most of the photographers whose work commands extraordinary prices.

Also, I think that Leibovitz sort of encloses the essence of a famous person's fame in her own distinctive vocabulary or style. Avedon, perhaps the most valued photographer who concentrated a lot on stars for magazines, strikes me as more of a true portrait photographer concerned with capturing humanness in a similar way whether the subject is an actress or a hobo or a miner.
posted by knoyers at 2:26 PM on December 5, 2010


What I mean is that, in a Leibovitz photograph, there is usually some kind of visual shock value or stunt going on. Not the most subtle portrait photographer.
posted by knoyers at 2:31 PM on December 5, 2010


Same could be said of some of Cindy Sherman's series.
posted by borges at 2:42 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Myself, I'm favorably disposed towards Annie Leibovitz, and not just because she is a vocal supporter of the free-form radio station WFMU.

A mutual friend, a lovely, creative, woman, died tragically young from a freakishly aggressive cancer. Leibovitz organized and paid for a tribute at the Kitchen in Chelsea, that included a well edited video tribute, large photos of our friend, and a catered reception.

She made a statement, along with the others, but there was no indication that she was the one who put this together, I only found out by asking this girl's best friend later.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:03 PM on December 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


She didn't work the system. The Art system. She admits it, the dealers explain it. The Art system is kinda like Fight Club, it's imaginary but effective, and no body talks about the realities behind the art system.
posted by sammyo at 3:42 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


She wouldn't be having any of these issues if she lived in a comfortable 2-bedroom apartment in the Upper West Side and paid her credit cards in full every month. Perhaps she should have waited for her work to appraise before spending that hypothetical rainfall of money?
posted by falameufilho at 4:06 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Last year, an artist friend of mine described A.L.'s relationship to other artists this way: It's like you are totally stressed out driving in traffic, on a rain soaked highway. It's not fun. A car comes careening past everyone, in the breakdown lane... when you see the wreck...
posted by R. Mutt at 4:19 PM on December 5, 2010


art on the other hand it most certainly isn't.
I have to say that I disagree with that statement. Here's an example. There is the naked and vulnerable artist, in a position that brings to mind an infant ("just like starting over"?) suckling at the teat of his mother (something he was known to have called his wife), who seems to be distant and emotionless (something she has been accused of being). There's symbolism all over that photograph. Who cares if it's easy to spot or difficult? The point is that it's MORE than just a celebrity portrait. Wouldn't that make it art? It does to me and it seems that if even a couple people think something is art, then by God it's art. However, if a couple people think something isn't art, that DOESN'T strip that object of the "art" label.
And if you're going to get picky about portraiture not being art, then what about the Mona Lisa? What about all those "artists" who painted the members of the royal houses of Europe? Those are just the works of people who sold their services to customers, you know. Anyone could have painted those portraits, they just wouldn't have looked the same as what was actualized. By the same measure, I could have taken those photographs, but because I'm not Annie Leibovitz, they wouldn't have been nearly as cool to look at.
By the way, is this art?
posted by frodisaur at 4:43 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


She wouldn't be having any of these issues if she lived in a comfortable 2-bedroom apartment in the Upper West Side and paid her credit cards in full every month. Perhaps she should have waited for her work to appraise before spending that hypothetical rainfall of money?

Creative types are notoriously bad about money. I actually have a little sympathy for her.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:47 PM on December 5, 2010


Anyone who says her work isn't art has never tried their hand at portrait photography. She has always been exceptionally good at bringing out the essence of a personality in a portrait. If that isn't art, nothing is. In that way I've always thought of her more as a journalist - every photographer is in some way. It's about documenting in the best way you know how.

Just because you're not active in the 'art world' doesn't mean you're not creating meaningful art - it's just that you're not giving the galleries and collectors what they want. Ironically, making art that others want might be the very definition of what art isn't.
posted by jimmythefish at 5:00 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


She is a hack who is notorious in the professional-assistant community of NY photographers as someone with zero aesthetic or technical ability and relies completely on her staff of assistants. They build the sets, compose the shots, light them, set the cameras, and do all of the post production (color correction, touch-up, etc). Her sole talent lies in wrangling celebrities and charming photo editors. That and exploiting talented nobodies.

She's the Kostabi of photography.
posted by TSOL at 5:54 PM on December 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


Just because you're not active in the 'art world' doesn't mean you're not creating meaningful art - it's just that you're not giving the galleries and collectors what they want. Ironically, making art that others want might be the very definition of what art isn't.

But that's just the thing: She is giving people what they want; "they" just happen to be the kind of people who buy magazines based on the cover shot.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:03 PM on December 5, 2010


Another celebrity thinks the high-life gravy-train will go on forever, burns BOO-COO $$$ and digs a deep debt-hole funding a lifestyle they can't actually afford, then gets caught with their pants down when the music stops and butts start looking for chairs.

I don't have a TV, but isn't this what the latest season of Entourage is about?

I mean on a human level I guess I feel sympathy for her. But OTOH, to a certain extent she's just another American whose lifestyle-sustaining credit has run out, albeit with more zeros, face/name recognition, and some nice pictures in the scrapbook.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:07 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I believe that a very high percentage of the disdain for Annie among other photographers and the arts community is simply jealousy.

She may a real bitch on shoots, rely excessively on assistants, have astronomically huge production budgets, and relatively minimal technical expertise. She also may be lousy at personal finance.

However, I'd trade my portfolio for hers in a heartbeat.
posted by imjustsaying at 6:23 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


some strange comments here - from the article it seems she doesnt bother signing prints or editioning which isnt going to help. She was susan sontags partner which is as art world photography as you can get.
A lot of celeb photographers are hyped up though - youre not going to be reading how shit hot eggleston is because he took a picture of the inside of a fridge etc - you'll think of maybe leibovitz, bailey, rankin, testino, meisel - people with that constructed media narrative of the photographer that 'makes it' and maybe you can make it too, just shop at our store. People like Gursky are from a different planet to this - they would make the same work whether they got the big bucks or not.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:36 PM on December 5, 2010


I don't find the article that surprising. She does solid commercial photography, but I wouldn't want naked, pregnant Demi Moore in my living room. She chose to do what she does and if people don't want to buy it as art, or an investment, okay. Many people manage their money poorly. Check out pro sports.
posted by snofoam at 8:26 PM on December 5, 2010


I'd trade my portfolio for hers in a heartbeat.

Not your investment portfolio, I hope.
posted by stargell at 9:03 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd trade my portfolio for hers in a heartbeat.

really? you must have very low self esteem.
posted by the cuban at 3:35 AM on December 6, 2010


She is a hack who is notorious in the professional-assistant community of NY photographers as someone with zero aesthetic or technical ability and relies completely on her staff of assistants. They build the sets, compose the shots, light them, set the cameras, and do all of the post production (color correction, touch-up, etc). Her sole talent lies in wrangling celebrities and charming photo editors. That and exploiting talented nobodies.

I'm glad someone else said it. That is indeed the word from the Art Center crowd, at least from way back when.
posted by mrhappy at 6:43 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm an Art Center grad too (in illustration, instead of photography), and even though Leibovitz was never discussed around me, I find her work... for the lack of a better word... cheesy. My inner twelve year old loves pieces such as her Sleeping Beauty photo, but this is not something I would hang on my wall, as I am not twelve anymore.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 7:53 AM on December 6, 2010


I'd trade my portfolio for hers in a heartbeat.

really? you must have very low self esteem.


Is this really necessary, the cuban? We get it. You don't like her work. Art "value" is, to a large extent, very subjective, and simutaneously very subject to peer influence.

Attacking someone for having a different aesthetic than yours is puerile.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:02 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are people really repeatedly rehashing the notion that Annie Liebovitz should have worked harder at living within her means? What does anyone have to say about that subject that wasn't already dealt with in the 100+ comments thread previously(and the attached article)? I find the actual subject of this FPP--why the best-known living photographer in the United States today isn't earning anywhere near what some of her peers are making for photos--much more interesting, as well as that article about Tom Barrack (not "Barrick"); I'm still trying to figure out just how exactly Rob Lowe fit into all that.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:42 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


what I meant by stating that art never expressed anything but itself was that art pieces exist for themselves. haring might have intended to create awareness for AIDS but he created a piece of art to further an outside motive. advertising on the other hand is not about advertising at all, it is about the product or service it is advertising. in this case the ad itself is just the vehicle.

haring - pieces of art. think of aids or not think of aids, it's still a keith haring.
gorbatchev for louis vuitton - advertising. you may think of it as a leibovitz photo or not but the one thing you will always have to think of because it's the integral part of the image is that michael is sitting there with louis vuitton handbags. that is the point, not the artistic merit of the photograph.

you could slap a jim beam logo below a bresson photo and it would still be a bresson. change the product in annie's shot and the whole concept changes.
posted by krautland at 1:57 PM on December 6, 2010


A lot of people here are missing the point of the article. I don't doubt that she could've regulated her finances better, but if you understand how the art world works, how "value" is determined, how things are bought and sold, then you know not to underestimate the importance of the gallery. She's not struggling because she didn't pay her bills. She's struggling because she didn't work with the galleries to do the things she needed to do, to command the prices she needed; she didn't restrict the editions of her pieces; she rarely signed anything.

Like sammyo said, she didn't work the system. Who knows how art history will look back upon her work. In 100 years, who's going to pay $400,000 for a print of pregnant Demi Moore if the number of editions is unclear; if she didn't sign the work; if there's no proof that her negatives have been destroyed after editions have been made.

Add the fact that the article mentions her use of digital retouching, which begs the question of whether her recent work is digitally shot or not. Are the archival inks used to print these digital photographs really archival? Are they really going to stay the same after 100 years? How can you certifiably 'destroy' a digital file to make sure no more prints are made?

Rarity is a metric that cannot be denied.
posted by hellomina at 4:02 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


(But with the sale of Gursky's work as an example, my latter point regarding the nature of digitally-based works is less of an issue...)
posted by hellomina at 4:05 PM on December 6, 2010


From my understanding, having worked with galleries that work with Gursky, he is very, shall we say, Teutonic about restricting the amount of prints that make up his editions, and he never ever reprints. Reprints have always been an issue with photographers, but in my experience it's the rare, kinda crazy ones that would destroy their negs/digital files after printing a first run (despite his rules, I doubt that Gursky does). Rarity in this case comes from who printed it and when--if reprints are done, they should be dated by the printing, and it would be the unethical (perhaps desperate for cash?) artist that would try and pass off reprints as originals. Would I care tremendously if I had a reprint Rodchenko instead of an original? Depends on the price tag.

Regardless, hellomina is right on the nose. Leibovitz didn't play the art game, for whatever reason, and what could have been a source of steady cash has turned its Prada-clad back on her. This is not to say that an art market will never emerge for her work, but somehow I doubt she'll be alive to enjoy that income. I hope she at least had the good sense to set up an airtight trust for her kids.
posted by Chichibio at 6:12 AM on December 11, 2010


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