The Artist Birthday Series

Annie Leibovitz

On December 8, 1980, Leibovitz had a photo shoot with John Lennon for Rolling Stone magazine, and she promised him he would make the cover. She had initially tried to get a picture with just Lennon alone, as Rolling Stone wanted, but Lennon insisted that both he and Yoko Ono be on the cover. Leibovitz then tried to re-create something like the kissing scene from the couple’s Double Fantasy 1980 album cover, a picture Leibovitz loved, and she had John remove his clothes and curl up next to Yoko on the floor. Leibovitz recalls, “What is interesting is she said she’d take her top off and I said, ‘Leave everything on’‍—‌not really preconceiving the picture at all. Then he curled up next to her and it was very, very strong. You couldn’t help but feel that he was cold and he looked like he was clinging on to her. I think it was amazing to look at the first Polaroid and they were both very excited. John said, ‘You’ve captured our relationship exactly. Promise me it’ll be on the cover.’ I looked him in the eye and we shook on it.” Leibovitz was the last person to professionally photograph Lennon‍—‌he was shot and killed five hours later.

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1991, Leibovitz emulated Margaret Bourke-White’s feat by mounting one of the eagle gargoyles on the 61st floor of the Chrysler Building in Manhattan, where she photographed the dancer David Parsons cavorting on another eagle gargoyle. Noted Life photographer and picture editor John Loengard made a gripping photo of Leibovitz at the climax of her danger.

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