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Happy snapper
Barbara Leibowitz shoots an insightful documentary about the life of her film-crazed sister.
Annie Leibowitz: Life Through the Lens
Director: Barbara Leibowitz
Certificate: A
Running time: 90 mins

Leibowitz has photographed the rich, famous and powerful people of the world. She also took the last pictures of John Lennon, just hours before he was murdered.

She photographed Nixon on the day he walked out of the White House, disgraced and impeached by the US Senate. She photographed a pregnant Demi Moore in the nude and shot Whoopi Goldberg, naked, with just her arms, face and legs showing above a white bath filled with white milk.

They are all iconic pictures and this probing documentary finally turns the camera onto Leibowitz herself, to offer us a portrait of the woman whose own celebrated portraits have decorated the world’s most influential publications.

This account of her life and career was shot for a PBS TV series called Imagine by Leibowitz’s sister Barbara, so there’s no ducking of tough questions nor any careful cover-ups of sensitive, private issues.

It portrays a fascinating journey from her early days as the revolutionary creator of covers and portraits for Rolling Stone magazine. She captured the aura of San Francisco in the ’60s, the era of the Hippies and the Love Generation, and was instantly acclaimed for her vivid portrayal of the counterculture.

She became as much of a star as the people she photographed, and that trend continues today. Her covers and photo-essays for Vanity Fair routinely hit the headlines, as with the recent storm over her pictures of Miley Cyrus. Nonetheless, the celebs have rallied for this TV biography and everyone, from Hillary Clinton to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mikhail Baryshnikov, through to Keira Knightley and Kirsten Dunst, express their delight with Leibowitz’s pictures of them.

The film also gets personal. There’s a history of drugs that is exposed and her sexuality is also addressed with an intensely moving account of her life with her partner of 15 years, the late Susan Sontag, with whom she raised three children.

It is, nonetheless, a TV programme bumped-up to big-screen format with a slight loss of picture quality, and it is irritating that many of the people who speak are not identified. But those are minor issues compared to the honest revelation of her personal life, and the sight of the great and the glamorous paying tribute to her talent.

Image and text by The Times, South Africa

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