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Family and friends figure in photographer’s life

June 12,2009
With a corpus of work comprising portraits of such famous faces as John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Bette Midler, Meryl Streep and the Rolling Stones, Annie Leibovitz is undoubtedly one of the most well-connected photographers today.

But the documentary “Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens” reveals an artist whose work is informed largely by her close, personal relationships with family and friends.

The film, aptly directed by Leibovitz’s sister Barbara, a long-time producer, places great emphasis on this fact through its tracing of the photographer’s career. There’s mention of family road trips, which provided Leibovitz a panoramic view of her surroundings through a “ready-made picture frame,” then a segment on the photographer’s shoots with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Mark Morris that relates to her mother’s career as a modern dancer. The director ties these experiences to Leibovitz’s many celebrity shoots by chronicling the photographer’s task of putting together her book, “A Photographer’s Life: 1990?2005.”

As Leibovitz pores over proofs for the book, the viewer sees the intersection of her personal and professional lives in family photos scattered among shots of say, Whoopi Goldberg. While the most visually interesting moments of the film come in footage of Leibovitz’s work with Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette garb at Versailles and with Keira Knightley on a “Wizard of Oz”-themed set, the most moving parts come as she remembers capturing the deaths of her father and her lover, the writer Susan Sontag.

Since the film’s original theatrical release, it has been re-edited for TV on networks such as BBC and PBS, but of course a view on the big screen means a better look at Leibovitz’s fine, provocative work. These days, the decision comes down to economy, that is, whether it’s really worth the price of a movie ticket.

And the bad economy is something that even the renowned photographer isn’t immune to: The New York Times reported in February that Leibovitz had borrowed some $15.5 million, using, among other things, the rights to all her photographs as collateral.

Life Through a Lens is informative, yes, and interesting, sure, but likely not as thrilling as some of the summer blockbusters. Despite all it accomplishes, it might be better to save your money and see it on the small screen of public broadcasting.

Annie Leibovitz:

Life Through a Lens

Documentary / English

83 min. / Now playing

By Hannah Bae [hannahbae@gmail.com]



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