Annie Leibovitz admitted to the Académie des Beaux-Arts

The famous American photographer, a specialist in portraits of the stars and contributor to the biggest American magazines (Rolling Stone, Vogue, Vanity Fair), was admitted as one of the 16 foreign members of the French institution. Anna Wintour, with whom she has worked for many years at Vogue magazine, presented her with her sword, the must-have accessory of the academy, and tailored her speech… Nicolas Ghesquière, Louis Vuitton’s designer, had designed her costume.

Like some of her photos, Annie Leibovitz is now “Immortal”… This has nothing to do with transhumanism, but it does have something to do with the nickname given to the academicians of the Institut de France. On March 20, the famous American photographer became a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. This is one of the five Academies of the Institut de France, located on the Quai de Conti, which also includes the illustrious Académie française, dedicated to men and women of letters…

For the 74-year-old professional, already the recipient of numerous awards (Prix de la photographie appliquée, ICP, New York, Royal Photographic Society Centenary Medal, Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres…), this is the umpteenth recognition of her work, but not the least prestigious…

She is now one of the 67 members of the Académie des Beaux Arts, and its 16 foreign associate members, all of whom have distinguished themselves in the arts of painting, architecture, music, dance and…photography. Installed in chair V, she succeeded the Chinese Ieoh Ming Pei, architect of the Louvre pyramid, who will die in 2019.

A green suit by Nicolas Ghesquière

As befits a photographer who has become as famous as the fashion and cultural personalities etched in her films for Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines, Annie Leibovitz made her entrance under the dome of the Institut de France in a “green suit” ….signed by Nicolas Ghesquière.

 

 

Annie Leibovitz in French Academy green suit © Edouard Brane

A successful stylistic exercise for Louis Vuitton’s Artistic Director for Women, who skilfully revamped the basis of this traditional costume dating back to the Napoleonic period. Dressed in a dark blue fabric, embroidered with olive leaves in green and gold silk thread, Annie Leibovitz did not stand out from her Academy peers.

At the investiture ceremony, two other high-profile women were in the spotlight.

Patti Smith, a close friend of the photographer who, like her, has the long silver hair of an experienced woman, came to sing, accompanied by her daughter at the piano.

And to present her with her academician’s sword, another powerful female figure in the fashion world, Anna Wintour herself, was on hand. Draped in an elegant, classic Margiela suit designed by Galliano, hidden by her inseparable black glasses, the worldwide editorial and artistic director of Condé Nast presented Annie Leibovitz with a peaceful, ecologically-minded version of the academician’s must-have “accessory”. Her sword is in fact inspired by a branching stick evoking the Hudson River of her childhood…Anna Wintour was also able to praise Annie Leibovitz’s “X-ray vision” in a speech. A staple of fashion shows, the famous fashion journalist knows what she’s talking about: she has worked with the photographer for many years at Vogue magazine.

A “great photographer

“For a British or American person, the only thing more impressive than a fashion show by a French house is the French Academy – and following that principle, the only thing more intimidating than Annie Leibovitz is Annie Leibovitz brandishing a sword,” she declared wryly.

 

Pregnant Demi Moore for Vanity Fair, august 1991 © Annie Leibovitz

 

Before Anna Wintour, the Franco-Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, himself already an Academician and friend of Annie Leibovitz, also praised the career of “a great photographer from a country with a huge tradition of portrait artists like Irving Penn or Richard Avedon” but still alive, for his part… He insisted on her central role within Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines and her way of “asking the question of intimacy in a society of starification”.

During the investiture ceremony, moving photos taken by Annie Leibovitz in the privacy of her own home, as well as public ones that have been seen around the world, were shown.

John Lennon photographed naked a few hours before his death

Among the best-known are those of John Lennon, taken for Rolling Stone magazine on the morning of December 8, 1980, in his apartment, where he poses nude, embracing his partner Yoko Ono. A few hours later, the famous Beatles singer was murdered.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono for Rolling Stone Magazine in december 1980 © Annie Leibovitz

 

Another resounding photo, but for different reasons, was taken in 1991 of actress Demi Moore, also posing in the simplest of garb and…pregnant, much to the dismay of some of her compatriots.

More recently, in November 2022, Annie Leibovitz photographed Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo playing chess on a Louis Vuitton briefcase for a commercial by the famous trunk-maker. This image of the two soccer superstars immediately went viral, surpassing 30 million “likes” on Cristiano’s account, making it the most-liked publication of that year!

 

Lionnel Messi playing chess against Cristiano Ronaldo in a Louis Vuitton campaign, 2022 © Annie Leibovitz/Louis Vuitton

 

But while chance has sometimes interfered with the fate of her shots, it has little place in Annie Leibovitz’s professional work. Surrounded by a team of lighting technicians, prop-makers and stylists, she “glamorizes” her portraits, at once very classic and very sophisticated, through skilful lighting and attentive post-production.

The immortal role of photography

At her investiture ceremony, the photographer herself spoke of her personal approach to photography, and its ever-present (immortal?) role in our society.

 

Cover for Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue 2001 with, from left to right: Nicole Kidman, Catherine Deneuve, Meryl Streep, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Vanessa Redgrave, Chloë Sevigny, Sophia Loren and Penélope Cruz © Annie Leibovitz

 

“The power of photography is the power to share our experience with others beyond differences of time, geography, education or belief,” she emphasized. To witness, the power to show what otherwise would not be believed. The power to stop and hold on to those moments that are beyond us. That so many people have this power in their hands, now more than ever… that’s the greatness of photography. By understanding others, we can better understand ourselves. I sincerely believe that this honor you’ve bestowed on me today expresses the conviction that, although it’s evolving, photography is truer than ever, has more power in our lives than ever before.

Read also > WHO WAS THE ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHER ELLIOTT ERWITT?

Featured Photo: © Académie des Beaux-Arts

Sophie Michentef a évolué plus de 30 ans dans la presse professionnelle. Pendant une quinzaine d’années, elle a encadré la rédaction France et international du Journal du Textile. Elle met désormais son expertise presse, textile, mode et luxe au service de journaux, organisations professionnelles et entreprises.

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