A Photographer’s Life, 1990-2005

A collection of the work – professional and personal – of photographer Annie Leibowitz.

A Photographer’s Life, 1990-2005 by Annie Leibowitz Paperback edition, Random House 472pp., $50

What can I say about the work of one of the most famous photographers of our times that hasn’t been said before? Fortunately, A Photographer’s Life, 1990-2005 is not just a collection of Annie Leibowitz’s slick, fascinating portraiture. Instead, in addition to the expected commercial work, we are presented with a collection of very personal snapshots that construct a portrait of the artist as daughter, lover, and mother. Each of Leibowitz’s professional portraits includes a self-contained narrative. But her personal photos are more apt to rely on accumulated images of living quarters, trips, and interaction with family and friends.

The personal photos include images of Leibowitz’s parents; her famous partner, writer Susan Sontag; and later, her children. We see Leibowitz only in a few frames. Her images are so intimate that we experience her emotions through her eyes/lens.

And experience them we do. This book documents Leibowitz and Sontag’s time together, including the mundane side of what must have been a pretty intense life. Together they visit many of the hot spots of the late 20th century such as the Berlin Wall, the city of Sarajevo under siege, and New York’s ground zero. From these places we see a few images in the documentary style.

Mostly, however, we see what I would call “the time in between the highlights.” In Egypt a cold Sontag sits wrapped in a blanket taking in the sunset. In Paris she contemplates the architecture, while in Belgrade she sits under a tree.

The last third of the book features the “highlights.” Leibowitz has a daughter, just as her father and Sontag are both dying. At this point the images are “coated” with a sense of nostalgia. (Although, granted, it could be that as a viewer I projected this, knowing what was to come.)

The book has its difficult moments. There are a handful of violent scenes and there are some jarring images of the human body. But it ends beautifully with photos of the children, objects that belonged to Sontag, and huge panoramic views of landscapes. As one of Sontag’s famous notions about photography would have it, this book is truly a memento mori of everyday life.

Alfredo Sosa is the Monitor’s director of photography.

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