Accessibility links

Annie Leibovitz Takes New Path in 'Pilgrimage'

  • Deborah Block

A new exhibit of photos by the well-known portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz shows a different side of her. Leibovitz, known for her photos of celebrities, spent two years taking pictures without any people in them. Many are of places in the United States where famous people lived in the 19th and 20th centuries. Pilgrimage is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

There are homes and personal items that belonged to people who are no longer with us, including artists, scientists, photographers, and a U.S. president.

Leibovitz says she went on a journey from 2009 to 2011, taking photos of places that moved her, including landscapes. She says the collection represents a renewal of her spirit. Earlier, her lover, Susan Sontag, a famous author, died of cancer. And Leibovitz had financial troubles and almost lost control of her photo archives.

"There's some searching going on," said Leibovitz. "I discovered some things about myself which were really comforting."

Leibovitz was inspired by the 20th century American artist Georgia O'Keefe and traveled to New Mexico to photograph her homes and a box of handmade pastels.

She also captured images of items that belonged to President Abraham Lincoln, including the hat and gloves he was carrying in 1865 when he was assassinated.

"What she's really trying to do is evoke the presence of people, in a way, despite their absence," said Andy Grundberg who curated the exhibit.

Leibovitz has been a photographer for 40 years and is known for her shots of celebrities.

She told reporters she hadn't planned to focus on people from the past, but felt drawn to them.

"What really drew me to them, I think that they stand out. I thrive on history. I love it," added Leibovitz.

Leibovitz was fascinated by sharpshooter Annie Oakley, a star in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in the late 1800s. She photographed Oakley's boots and one of her shooting targets.

Leibovitz also found inspiration at Graceland, the mansion of rock and roll legend Elvis Presley, where she took a picture of his motorcycle.

Grundberg says the exhibit is "a portrait of Leibovitz."

"This is a way of understanding how Annie Leibovitz thinks about the world through the pictures that she's taken of people and places that are important to her," noted Grundberg.

To honor landscape photographer Ansel Adams, Leibovitz took a picture of his darkroom. Adams, who died in 1984, was devoted to photographing the wilderness in the American west. He was also a leader of the conservation movement.

Leibovitz did photos similar to Adams' famous pictures of Yosemite Valley in California.

"The best homage you can make was photographing that valley that he saved," Leibovitz said.

The photos in the exhibit are also included in a book that Leibovitz hopes will inspire people. She says she'll continue doing portraits, but also wants to take other kinds of photos.