Annie Leibovitz Gets Candid About The Queen & That Infamous Trump Photo

Previous PostHow To Make The Most Of Your Barre Workout
Next PostThe Ultimate Luxurious River Cruise For Wine Lovers
Annie Leibovitz at a book signing at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco
Annie Leibovitz at a book signing at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco

Photo Credit: Drew AltizerFamed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz came out with her third compilation book, Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005-2016, last October. It is part of a trilogy that features an in-depth look at her work in chronological order. The first book looks at the time period from 1970-1990 and has John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the cover. The second book covers 1990 to 2005 and highlights a mixture of Leibovitz’s personal and assignment work. While the latest book is available on Amazon, Neiman Marcus partnered with the artist to release a special limited-edition book with sleeve.

Only 2,000 of these books are available and all copies are signed and numbered. To celebrate the collaboration, Leibovitz made a personal appearance at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco. It was a homecoming of sorts—Leibovitz studied art in San Francisco and got her start as a young photographer at Rolling Stone magazine when it was still headquartered in the Bay Area. At the event, the silver-haired photographer was candid about her career, sharing behind-the-scenes secrets to some of her most iconic images. Here is what she had to say.

Leibovitz's latest book
Leibovitz’s latest book

On how Portraits 2005-2016 was supposed to feature Hillary Clinton as President:

“Three months before the election, I turned to people in my studio and I said ‘I have to put this work together and I have a great idea for the ending photo. The ending of the book is going to be Hillary Clinton in the White House. In the Oval Office.’ I had it all figured out. So we called Phaidon and we said, ‘Do you want to do this book?’ and they were insane and they said, ‘Sure, okay.’ I was planning it out, I was thinking ‘what desk would Hillary Clinton choose? Would it be Eleanor Roosevelt’s?’ I had these ideas. Then three months later. . . I guess we have to say the rest is history. We know what happened. I called Phaidon when Hillary Clinton lost and I said ‘I can’t do the book, I don’t have an ending’ and they sort of talked me off the edge. Then I tried to figure out the ending. The book does, in the last 20 pages or so, fall apart. I still don’t have a real ending. I just started to throw everything in. Anything I was photographing, I started to throw into the book. Bruce Springsteen? Throw him in! Oprah Winfrey? That looks good, throw her in! It didn’t make any sense.”

The Queen and her daughter, Anne, the Princess Royal, in the White Drawing Room at Windsor in April 2016
The Queen and her daughter, Anne, the Princess Royal, in the White Drawing Room at Windsor in April 2016

Photo Credit: Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair

On shooting the Queen for her 90th birthday:

“I had photographed her before, seven or eight years earlier and I thought at the time that it was going to be the last sitting I had with her. But they called me again. Buckingham Palace—when you get the call, you really can’t believe it. The set of photographs that are in the book—all three photographs that were released by the Palace are in the book and what was so charming with her and what’s interesting is that they were her ideas. You’ll see a photograph of her with Princess Anne, which was her idea. You’ll see a photograph of her with her four dogs, her idea. You’ll see a photograph of her with her grandchildren, her idea. She didn’t mention anything about Prince Philip or Prince Charles, so I wasn’t going to push it. She really understands that she is a muse and she turns herself over to the artist and its kind of fascinating. ”

The Queen in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, 2007.
The Queen in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, 2007.

Photo Credit: Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair

On shooting the Queen for the first time:

“The first sitting it turned into a big controversy because the BBC was doing a film on her and they took a piece of our photo session and they made it look like she was storming out of the shoot. She was actually storming into the shoot. A vice president of BBC lost their job because they construed it to make it look like she was walking out, but she was walking in. She wasn’t very happy, she was wearing 75 pounds of robes. I thought it might be the only time I got to photograph her and I wanted her to look like the queen. We finally got to the bottom of it—we had interrupted her favorite daytime television show, that’s why she wasn’t so happy. I was given 35 minutes and she stayed the whole time. She was fantastic. She has a real sense of duty and was feisty. It’s great when you get a live one.”

Donald and Melania Trump in 2006.
Donald and Melania Trump in 2006.

Photo Credit: Annie Leibovitz for Vogue

On shooting the infamous photo of the Trumps in 2006:

“It was done for Vogue and I was working with Phyllis Posnick, who is one of those legendary stylists who worked with Irving Penn and Helmut Newton. She brought that gold bikini. You have to understand Melania loved taking that picture. Trump was passé about where he should be. I didn’t make it up. I met them on the tarmac, the plane was there, and I saw the graphics of the stairway and I put Melania in it and the rest is what it is. They loved that. It wasn’t like there was anything wrong.”

Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg

Photo Credit: Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair

On shooting Whoopi Goldberg in a bathtub of milk:

“It was actually photographed in Berkeley. It was in the very beginning of her career. I didn’t know who she was. I was doing a series on young comedians. Jerry Seinfeld was in that series and he was cut off, that’s how early it was. We ended up not publishing him because he wasn’t big enough. I do my research, I watch the video tape of her during her nightclub routine. She plays a little black girl trying to scrub her skin off, thinking that if she scrubs enough, she is going to be white. I had an idea to put her in a bathtub scrubbing her skin. I was told by an advertising friend that milk photographs very white. I didn’t want to put her in cold milk, so we heated up gallons and gallons of warm milk on the stove. She got in the warm milk and she slipped down and it was very graphic.”

Gloria Steinem in 2015
Gloria Steinem in 2015

Photo Credit: Annie Leibovitz

On who she wants to photograph next:

“We’re getting a new editor at Vanity Fair and I’m putting together a list of people. I’m photographing Frances McDormand next week, so I’m excited about that. I want to do a new picture of Gloria Steinem. I’m sort of interested in photographing Jeff Bezos because he’s taking over the world. I pretty much get the chance to photograph [whoever] and I feel very responsible to that body of work. There are people who are no longer with us—like Martha Graham—that I really wanted to photograph.”

The crowd at the Neiman Marcus event
The crowd at the Neiman Marcus event

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

On her creative process:

“It’s different every time. I’m not kidding—every day really is an adventure. I was just worked on filming the Masterclass [where she teaches photography] and I really was trying to emphasis that photography has such great latitude and is so broad that there are so many different ways to approach everything. It really depends on the person. Like John and Yoko, I knew them. The last photograph I took of them it was 10 years in the making. I photographed them over the years, so that when I went in [for the final shot] we were thinking about how to do something that expressed love and caring.”

Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

On Instagram:

“I’m not an Instagram person. I’m not engaged in the whole world. It’s a full time job! Like Amy Schumer, I don’t even think she takes a picture. She has to hire someone to take the picture. I would just be consumed. I, personally, am not interested in it right now. I’m like backwards. I’m more traditional. I do think it’s a great time in photography. For photographers, photo journalism is incredible. We are just being relentless with the problems at hand within this country and the world. I run to the New York Times every day, I still get the hard copy of the New York Times and I look at the picture on the front page. The cell phone camera is just wonderful. It’s all good. There is no death of anything. We are all just trying to figure it out. There is no harm with it. Go for it. Use it. It’s there.”

Aubrey Brewster and Lisa Zabelle pose with Leibovitz's book at Neiman Marcus
Aubrey Brewster and Lisa Zabelle pose with Leibovitz’s book at Neiman Marcus

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

On San Francisco:

“I’m staying at the Fairmont and they put me in this room and I’m looking out at the town, at the Bay Area and I am just so jealous. I moved to New York in 1978 with Rolling Stone magazine. I said ‘I’m just going to go for a year’ because I loved my life here. [When] We drove into Union Square [to get to Neiman Marcus] to see it all blooming and blossoming, is kind of amazing.”

connect with haute living San Francisco
Loader