While all eyes are on America as it waits to hear whether Hillary Clinton will become the nation’s ﬁrst female president, Annie Leibovitz is hot on the heels of another female political powerhouse – Angela Merkel.
The iconic Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Vogue photographer is determined to pin down the German Chancellor to complete her exhibition Women: New Portraits, showing in Frankfurt this month. She’s so resolute, in fact, that there’s already a pre-emptive Post-it note with Merkel’s name on it stuck on a blank space in the exhibition. “I’m on the path. She’s probably the most important woman in the world right now.” There’s no denying that 2016 has been a year of powerful women, and Leibovitz’s latest project pays tribute to many of these through her trademark lens: humanised, whole and in their element, whether that’s feminist activist Gloria Steinem at her desk piled high with books, Taylor Swift with her guitar or Clinton, frowning at a classiﬁ ed document. Here, she reﬂects on the women she’s immortalised with her camera and how to get that perfect shot…
Do you still have to p ersuade people to be photographed by you?
“There was a long time between requesting a sitting with Queen Elizabeth and it actually happening. On the day, I asked her press secretary, ‘Why now?’ She said, ‘You wrote a letter ﬁve years ago.’ It’s all about perseverance. Also, when I shot anthropologist Jane Goodall, she walked in, said, ‘I really hate doing this. I’d have more fun at the dentist’, and stuck her tongue out at me.”
Has anyone especially moved you?
“Malala Yousafzai was the ﬁrst person in the exhibition who was actually smiling – and this is a woman who was shot to be killed. But she has this inner calm and sense of self. It’s all you can wish for as a photographer. You just hope you’re smart enough to let them be who they are.”
Do you get better results when celebs aren’t ‘on’?
“With Adele, like everyone else in the world, I’d been running around for weeks singing Hello. I admire her so much as an artist. I shot her the night before she won all those Grammys and right at the end I caught her just sitting at the piano in her own little black shirt. What I love about my work is the chance to show who someone really is, in their own environment.”
Do you have a favourite photograph at home?
“There is one of my mother that’s very important. It’s like there’s no camera lens – she’s just looking right at me.”
How do you inspire that moment of transformation in one of your models?
“When I met Caitlyn Jenner for the Vanity Fair shoot, there was hair, make-up, styling, but it was really all about her own emergence. She was quiet at ﬁrst, as we looked at imagery of women and how she wanted to portray herself – remember, this was an acquired look – but by day two she just took over. It was beautiful.”
Do you think we’ll see the ﬁrst female president?
I trust us as a society. I think we’re smart and whenever we mess up, we sort of right ourselves. Should it come to it, I’m not afraid of taking on Donald Trump.”
Women: New Portraits is at Kunstverei n Familie Montez Art Gallery, Frankfurt, kvfm.de