Annie Leibovitz on Photography: "You Cannot Underestimate the Power of the Sitter"

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"I didn't think any one else liked it but me," Annie Leibovitz told a group of snapping cameras and scratching pens yesterday about her photograph of artist Agnes Martin. Taken in Taos, it shows the woman simply sitting on her bed, facing forward, back straight. But as the photographer explained the context of the shoot, the room we were peeking into became filled with a different kind of life.

"'I sit here and wait to be inspired'" Martin, who she described as a "fragile child," told Leibovitz, "I guess it's a very personal picture for me, because I think we all hope for that. We're all waiting to be inspired." She was happy curator Charles Stainback chose to include the photo in the exhibition of her work being shown at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach.

Stainback explained his decision, "For me, it was important to include as many visual artists in my selection because it's an art museum." But the show also displays images from throughout Leibovitz's career, including those of LIl' Kim, Cindy Sherman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Irving, even R2-D2.

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Stainback started working on the exhibition a year and a half ago. "The sort of easy way out would be to pick all the famous pictures, and you're done," he said. "That sort of approach didn't interest me, and I really wanted to dig into her archive and sort of see other things. And she was very, very good about allowing me to do that."

On why he chose the musicians displayed over the others in her catalogue, he admitted, "Like any person, I respond to a picture because of the person in it. I love the Rolling Stones. I love Lucinda Williams, I really love Lucinda Williams. I had to pick that picture. It was too good, too great. You have personal biases, and the great thing about my job is I get to make the decisions."

Leibovitz seemed pleased with those decisions, answering questions, and telling animated stories. "You cannot underestimate the power of the sitter." She continued on the Agnes Martin shot, "It's sort of like looking at that picture of John and Yoko after the picture of them intwined. After John Lennon was killed... The viewer can't help but project all the information in their head into that picture."

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Norton Museum of Art

1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach, FL

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