Picture 3-2

Earlier this week Carla and I went to the wonderful Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles to see photographer Annie Leibovitz read from her new book, At Work.

The purpose of this book, she said, was to let young photographers find out about photography, and to explain the stories behind the many amazing photographs she's taken in her 40+ year career as a photographer for Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair.

I wasn't expecting to be interested in the text of the book (and it is mostly text, not photos) but I found it to be immensely readable. At Work is not only a gossip lover's delight (she tells fun stories about all the famous people she'd photographed, like Hunter S. Thompson, The Rolling Stones, Queen Elizabeth, and Al Sharpton), its also an inspiration for anyone who does creative work and wants to continuously challenge themselves to become better at their craft.


I bought my first real camera in Japan, a Minolta SR-T 101. The first thing I did with it was take it on a climb up Mt. Fuji.

Climbing Mt. Fuji is something every Japanese does at some point, but it’s harder than you might think. I was young, and I started up the mountain fast. I didn’t know about pacing. My brother Phil was even younger – he was thirteen – and he ran ahead of me. Phil disappeared. The camera felt like it weighed a ton. It was awkward. It got heavier the higher we went. After a while I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it, but just then a group of elderly Japanese women in dark robes came marching along in single file. They were chanting in an encouraging way and I fell in behind them. We passed Phil at the seventh way station. He was lying flat on his back.

When you climb Mt. Fuji you stay overnight at the eighth way station and get up in the morning so that you can reach the top at sunrise. It’s a glorious moment. Spiritually significant. When I got to the top I realized that the only film I had was the roll in the camera. I hadn’t thought much about the film situation. I photographed the sunrise with the two or three frames I had left.

At Work

8 Responses to “Annie Leibovitz's new book, At Work”

  1. Wooster says:

    Leibovitz spoke at Portland Arts & Lectures this week. She showed pictures from the book, and then spoke about each. It was very interesting. I assume she’s doing a book tour, and I recommend catching the act if she comes through your town.

    She occasionally got tangled up in words, and would fall back on reading from the book, which was amusing. She explained at the beginning that Susan Sontag had been in charge of words, and she’d needed to work on her skills in that area since Sontag’s death.

  2. MrScience says:

    Synchronicity Moment:
    I was listening to an interview with Leibovitz on NPR yesterday morning, and was sad when I had to turn it off to go into work. 12 hours later, I get into my car, and the exact same interview is wrapping up… probably 10 minutes into it after I had turned it off. I almost checked the CD player; it was a very odd experience.


  3. Jesse in Japan says:

    I don’t think that that many Japanese people actually climb mount Fuji.

  4. Mark Frauenfelder says:

    She didn’t charge me for my signed copy!

  5. Takuan says:

    trouble with being famous is anything you say even once becomes part of your public persona. I see an opportunity in giving obscurity lessons to celebrities – how much should I charge?

  6. moloko says:

    Hot damn, Leibovitz and I both had the same first camera! Those SRTs are so lovable, I have about 4 now…

  7. stuartcw says:

    I have to agree. Most Japanese have not and do not intend to climb mount Fuji.

    Also, many people don’t stay overnight but start late to time their arrival at top with the sunrise.

    Climbing Fuji is a big leveller. Friends, that I considered fit, had knee and breathing problems while others stomped up to the top. The hop, skip, slide to the bottom is a chore…

  8. Digital Artz says:

    I lost respect for her as a person when
    She said “she charges to sign her books” while
    visiting a book store in NYC a few years ago.

    My friend that owned the bookstore went out of
    business as who the hell buys books from a little
    guy anymore even though his special collection were only” art photography” books,her pulling rank with my friend was ugly,really ugly.Kind of arrogant.

    He also paid for her books out of his pocket so
    that made her even stink more….whatever!

    Well famous or not you can’t take it with you.

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