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Annie Leibovitz, turning the lens inward


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A 15-year retrospective on view here of the work of photographer-of-the-famous Annie Leibovitz is most notable for its poignant family portraits.

Impetus for the exhibition came following the death in late 2004 of her companion, writer Susan Sontag, Leibovitz explained on a tour of the show at the Brooklyn Museum on Thursday.

The show next goes to Paris and London in 2008 and 2009.

"It came out of a moment when Susan had just died, and my father had died. It was a moment of grief. I looked at that work and it meant so much," Leibovitz said.

"After I had just buried Susan in Paris, I realized, I woke up and decided to edit all this work."

Leibovitz, 57, is very well known in the United States, a household name for her superb and arresting portraits of celebrities and leading public figures. For years she was director of photography at rock's magazine of record Rolling Stone, then moved to the glossy Vanity Fair.

From grief came 15 years of portraits of Hollywood royalty and presidents, but also trips with Sontag to Venice, Petra and beseiged Sarajevo, and the birth of her three daughters.

Entering the exhibit, which is chronologically organized, a visitor first encounters immense color photographs that first appeared in the slick pages of Vanity Fair and became iconic: Demi Moore nude and pregnant, Cindy Crawford Eve-like with a snake, a bare-chested Mick Jagger on a white bed, Johnny Depp dressed stretched over a naked Kate Moss, Johnny Cash gazing lovingly at June Cash.

A photograph of the powerbrokers of the Bush government in December 2001 is mounted next to a contemporaneous one of filmmaker Michael Moore.

But very quickly, the eye is drawn to smaller, black and white images hung alongside: her parents at the beach, her daughter Sarah in the garden, Sontag's computer screen with some lines from her last book, Sontag ravaged by cancer, Sontag on her death bed.

A picture of Leibovitz, aged 52 and pregnant with her first daughter, evokes the photographer's portrait of actress Moore. It was taken by Sontag.

Leibovitz decided to present these intimate, black and white images in a small format, to invite the visitor to approach and feel their full impact: by turns somber, loving, powerful and unsettling.

Working on the retrospective, Leibovitz explains, she frenetically taped hundreds of pictures to the walls of her country house. The wall has been reconstructed for the exhibit.

"These photographs mean so much to me," said Leibovitz, a tall woman dressed in informal black, with long, graying blond hair and a sad smile.

"I was so mesmerized by the amount of personal work that I did."

"I don't have two lives. This is one life, and the personal pictures and the assignment work are all part of it."

Portraiture is a difficult art, she explained, especially when it comes to people very conscious of their appearance. Photographing someone close to you is not necessarily easier, but the result is better:

"It's stronger because these are the people that know you, they let you enter their life," she said.

She is often asked what is her favorite photo: Nelson Mandela in Soweto? Demi pregnant? Difficult to say.

But if you insist, she points to a picture of her elderly mother that captures her gravity despite a tendency to smile for the camera.

"She was afraid of looking old. It was very hard to take this picture, but I was very happy with the result," said Leibovitz.

"Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005" is at the Brooklyn Museum -- www.brooklynmuseum.org -- through January 21. The exhibit will travel to San Diego, Atlanta, Washington, and San Francisco, before crossing the Atlantic to the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie in Paris (June to September 2008) and the National Portrait Gallery of London.

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AFPLifestyle-US-photography-people

AFP 221235 GMT 10 06

COPYRIGHT 2006 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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