I saw Annie Leibovitz speak at City Arts & Lectures on Monday. I have always followed her work closely, but have never seen her speak. And I have a feeling that hearing her speak will be causing a shift in my photography.
Leibovitz was speaking on the occasion of the release of her book: Annie Leibovitz At Work. I haven't bought the book yet, but my understanding is that it's more of a textbook which addresses technique and composition and equipment.
Leibovitz received her professional training at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she began as a painter. She quickly learned that photography was her forte -- it was more immediate and more social.
During the Monday lecture, she read from her book and a portion was about what she learned as a young photography student.
"We were taught that the most important thing a young photographer can do is learn how to see. It wasn’t about the equipment we were using. I don’t remember being taught any technique. A camera was only a box that recorded an image. We learned to compose, to frame, to fill the negative, to fit everything we saw into the camera’s rectangle. We were never to crop our pictures. We went out every morning and took pictures and developed them in the darkroom the same day. Since the prints were washed in communal trays and everybody’s pictures were lying there with everybody else’s, you tried hard to come back with something good. In the evening we would sit around and discuss our work. We were a community of artists."
I had a family member in town this week and had my camera out most of the time -- I shot a couple hundred photos. And I could hear Annie ringing in my ears during my photos. Reminding me to see. Reminding me to shoot an entire image instead of lazily knowing I'd crop later. Reminding me to compose. I am so lucky to have heard her.
If you're interested in hearing this interview, it will be played on KQED on January 4, 2009.