Leibovitz wows, inspires with images

Famed photographer Annie Leibovitz shares favorites and insights in a packed Hendricks Chapel Thursday.

Vogue. Vanity Fair. Rolling Stone.

These are just a few of the magazines that have featured the work of  the acclaimed photographer and documentarian Annie Leibovitz. She has photographed the Queen and the first family. She has produced images that have become enduring cultural icons in modern America. The Library of Congress has labeled her a living legend.

And on Thursday, she inspired a standing-room only crowd at Hendricks Chapel.

Photo: Stephen Sartori | Syracuse University
A packed audience cheered as Annie Leibovitz began her lecture Thursday by taking a photo of the crowd.

“The future has to be invented,” says Leibovitz. “And it’s almost always invented by youth.”

In the audience, Leibovitz’s niece, Samantha Leibovitz, listened to her aunt’s words of encouragement and watched several images of herself as a young girl at the beach flash across the projector. Samantha Leibovitz is a magazine journalism senior at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Annie Leibovitz came to Syracuse University as part of the University Lecture series, which annually brings influential and prominent men and women to campus. Organizers say that the visit was initially planned as a Newhouse School event in the 300-seat Herg Auditorium, but by the time Leibovitz arrived it escalated to a University-wide affair due to her prominence in the photography field and the interest from the wider campus community.

Leibovitz’s fame first grew after launching a long and prolific career as a photographer – first at Rolling Stone and, most recently, for Vanity Fair.

She has photographed starlets, monarchs, presidents, and everyday people. Two of her images ranked first and second in the American Society of Magazine Editors Top 40 Magazine Covers on the Last 40 Years. The top covers featured a nude portrait of actress Demi Moore and a photograph of John Lennon nude, cuddling with his wife Yoko Ono, taken on the day he was assassinated. 

Liebovitz shared work from her career, read selections from her latest book, Annie Leibovitz At Work, and showed some of  her latest project, which she’s tentatively calling “Pilgrimage.”

When speaking of her work, Leibovitz was candid and personal. She mentioned her money woes as “financial moments,” and how hiccups in getting a hotel room for a family trip to Niagara started her on her latest project, which features images she took of places and objects that are associated with famous deceased people like Virginia Woolf, Sigmund Freud, Emily Dickinson and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Despite a personally challenging few years, Leibovitz spoke as a resilient and thoughtful survivor: “Even in the darkest times, you know, it can actually be some of the most interesting times,” she said.

The other star of the event was the cinema-quality projector that presented Leibovitz's work. She insisted on having the device, which came with a $3,000 total rental fee, financed by the Newhouse School. The projector and its operator were driven in from New York City to SU, where it was set up and calibrated, according to Anthony Golden, chair of the Multimedia, Photography and Design department at Newhouse.

The audience reaction was a mix of dignified admiration and unbridled adoration. She entered Hendricks to a resounding applause and several hoots and hollers.

Upon leaving the chapel, Leibovitz found an autograph line at least six people wide that completely filled the foyer and stretched around the halls. A fire marshal worked to keep access to the exits possible from attendees filing out after the question and answer session.

“It was good she put her emotion into it,” says Sarah Rosencrans, a sophomore hospitality management major. “She shared valuable lessons about her mother and family and showed us we’re in the generation of change.”

Stephen Sartori | Syracuse University

Leibovitz was available after the lecture Thursday night to sign books.  The line stretched well beyond the doors of the Hendricks Chapel lobby.   (PHOTO: Stephen Sartori | Syracuse University)

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