Wednesday, June 25, 2008


On the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bali, everyone in the family got a free upgrade to first class except for me. Luckily, I got on the plane much later because of a Burger King run and nobody noticed when I simply sat next to my aunt in first class. It's the first time I've ever been up front and in the words of Aunt Cindy, “I think I must just stay and live here.” Beautiful Malayasian stewardesses bringing fresh fruit juice and tasty meals, free portable entertainment systems with movies and games and an array of magazines including the China issue of National Geographic that I liberated from the plane. Wonderful. I used the handy movie thingy to watch a documentary about Annie Liebowitz.

Of course, I've seen many great portraits by Annie over the years but I never realized how much she has accomplished. She started with Rolling Stone in San Francisco at the beginning of the rock revolution of the late 60's and went onto to become the rock photographer. A tour with the Rolling Stones ended in a trip to rehab. Afterwards, she went to work for Vanity Fair where she became the photographer who could make a star.

Whoopi Goldberg said that after the photograph of her emerging from a bathtub of milk came out, people started recognizing her on the street. I love her shot of a naked and very pregnant Demi Moore that got Vanity Fair yanked from the shelves in North Carolina. Of course, I cried a lot during this movie because of her family photos, talk of her recently deceased father and the poignant photos from her archives. Two stand out to me. One, a photo of her lover, Susan Sontang, the intellectual who ironically wrote a classic essay on photography before they met, looking into the camera shortly before her death.

The second photo requires a little back story. Jan Wenner got the first true interview with John Lennon and Yoko after the breakup of the Beatles and Annie begged to go along. New at the magazine, it was her first time meeting a big rock star. They liked this passionate young girl and the pictures she took recalls Yoko in an interview. Many years later, Annie them again for a photoessay on the couple. Yoko described them as being at “the height of their intimacy” living happily and quietly near Central Park. John liked how Annie came with suggestions and ideas for photographs instead of orders like many photographers. They played and experimented that day. Annie asked Yoko to remove her clothes but she said no. John volunteered and she took this shot of John curled around his lover (annoyingly blurred by the Muslim censors of Malaysia airlines). Five hours later, he was dead. Rolling Stone ran the photo on their cover with no captions. Jan Wenner said “no words could express the tragedy”.

1 comment:

Astrid said...

When I was in London I went to an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery - the last hundred years of Vanity Fair. Then I bought a photo book of all the portraits on display - including the demi and whoopi that you like...

eat your heart out.