Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage

by Sue on November 8, 2011

Photo of Sigmund Freud's couch by Annie Leibovitz

Sigmund Freud's couch in his study at 20 Maresfield Gardens in London (source: NY Times)

Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage charts a new course for one of America’s best-known living photographers. Different from her staged and carefully lit portraits made on assignment for magazines like Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, Pilgrimage took Leibovitz to places that she could explore without an agenda. She wasn’t on assignment this time and she chose the subjects simply because she was moved by them.

The photography exhibition is presented in conjunction with a new book – Pilgrimage by Annie Leibovitz, with an introduction by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Here are some notes from the book:

She chose the subjects simply because they meant something to her. The first place was Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts, which Leibovitz visited with a small digital camera. A few months later, she went with her three young children to Niagara Falls. “That’s when I started making lists,” she says. She added the houses of Virginia Woolf and Charles Darwin in the English countryside and Sigmund Freud’s final home, in London, but most of the places on the lists were American. The work became more ambitious as Leibovitz discovered that she wanted to photograph objects as well as rooms and landscapes. She began to use more sophisticated cameras and a tripod and to travel with an assistant, but the project remained personal.


Leibovitz went to Concord to photograph the site of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond. Once she got there, she was drawn into the wider world of the Concord writers. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s home and Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott and her family lived and worked, became subjects. The Massachusetts studio of the Beaux Arts sculptor Daniel Chester French, who made the seated statue in the Lincoln Memorial, became the touchstone for trips to Gettysburg and to the archives where the glass negatives of Lincoln’s portraits have been saved. Lincoln’s portraitists—principally Alexander Gardner and the photographers in Mathew Brady’s studio—were also the men whose work at the Gettysburg battlefield established the foundation for war photography. At almost exactly the same time, in a remote, primitive studio on the Isle of Wight, Julia Margaret Cameron was developing her own ultimately influential style of portraiture. Leibovitz made two trips to the Isle of Wight and, in an homage to the other photographer on her list, Ansel Adams, she explored the trails above the Yosemite Valley, where Adams worked for fifty years.

“From the beginning, when I was watching my children stand mesmerized over Niagara Falls, it was an exercise in renewal,” she says. “It taught me to see again.”

Virginia Wolf's Bedroom, Annie Leibovitz

Virginia Woolf’s bedroom in her country home, which is a few miles from Charleston, England (source: NY Times)

Dominique Browning interviewed Annie Leibovitz, here is an exerpt from A Pilgrim’s Progress in the New York Times:

Gazing at the traces left behind by her favorite artists, traces of their lives, their creature habits, Ms. Leibovitz finds something to nurture all of us — something about integrity, staying true to a vision. She forges a connection to the past that informs the way she is moving forward. “I would encourage everyone to make their own list,” she says. “My book is a meditation on how to live. It’s an old-fashioned idea, but you should always try to do what you love to do.”

Photographs from Pilgrimage will be exhibited at New York’s Pace Gallery, 545 West 22nd Street, from December 1 to 3, and will then be at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, from January 20 to May 20, 2012. Following its presentation in Washington, D.C., Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage will tour nationally.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

jen vollmer November 14, 2011 at 10:49 pm

I especially loved her photograph of Georgia O’Keefe’s (oil?) pastel crayons — well-used remnants still residing in a simple box… beautiful!

jen vollmer November 30, 2011 at 9:19 am

i finally had a chance to spend time with Pilgrimage … and savored it from cover to cover. i was especially intrigued to learn about her process for capturing each image – and how some came about accidentally, some intentionally. her writing is very personal and accessible. what a lovely lovely book.

a perfect gray December 2, 2011 at 9:28 am

thank you for this piece. I am using some of this information in a program I’m giving on AL next week. donna

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