Leibovitz’s Print Sales Not Helping Her Debt Troubles
Annie Leibovitz has been trying to extract herself from a financial hole by offering master sets of 157 prints for more than $3 million each, but collectors are apparently balking, according to a recent story by John Gapper in the Financial Times. And at recent auctions, he reports, Leibovitz’s prints have been fetching less than $10,000, and sometimes even less than $1,000. “Despite all her celebrity and talent,” Gapper writes, “Leibovitz lacks earning powers as an artist.”
The reason for that, he essentially says, is that she hasn’t sucked up to the art world. Although she’s had relationships with various art galleries, she has devoted her energy almost entirely to commercial and editorial work, and failed to take the sage marketing advice of dealers to print very limited editions and sign them.
Gapper’s sources raise questions about the intrinsic artistic value of Leibovitz’s commercial work–most of it celebrity portraits. But he points out that Irving Penn and Richard Avedon managed to succeed as both artists and commercial photographers. Leibovitz could do the same, Gapper suggests, if only she could cultivate a perception of scarcity.
But Gapper overlooks the fact that Avedon and Penn made it in the fine art world on the strength of their personal work, not their editorial or advertising work. That isn’t to say that Leibovitz’s images of Demi Moore and Queen Elizabeth and other celebrities don’t have value. To her commercial clients, her work is worth quite a lot. But it’s hard to imagine how she can clamber into the pantheon of notable art photographers on the strength of those images alone, even if she does make amends with dealers and gallerists. (pdnpulse.com)
How Annie got shot
At work, Richard Petty runs a clinic around the corner from London’s Harley Street where he specialises in treating men with sexual and prostate conditions. For relaxation, he collects photographs of women.
Petty is not interested in any photos, only ones of recognizable figures with interesting careers or life stories. Among others, he owns portraits of the actresses Juliet Stevenson and Scarlett Johansson and the artist Tracey Emin. Another, taken in 1909 by Alexander Bassano, a famous society photographer, is of Maud Allan, an exotic dancer and purported mistress of Edward VII whose Salomé dance was declared obscene by the Lord Chamberlain. He started collecting 12 years ago, going to specialist galleries in London and finding photographs that captured his imagination.
Demi Moore by Annie Leibovitz
“It is not just a matter of fame. I like to know who the woman is and the story behind the image. The best possible image is a vintage print but if that is impossible to find then I get as near as I can. Each one has to be perfection,” he says.
In principle, therefore, he should be a potential customer for Annie Leibovitz, the notoriously perfectionist Vanity Fair photographer whose photos of Hollywood actors and actresses and other figures are among the best-known celebrity images. Her photos of a naked, pregnant Demi Moore and of an equally naked John Lennon hugging Yoko Ono, hours before his killing in 1980, defined their age.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono by Annie Leibovitz
After a 40-year career, starting as a photographer of rock bands on Rolling Stone in 1970, Leibovitz is a celebrity herself. In addition to her work at Vanity Fair, she is hired by companies such as American Express for advertising campaigns. The Queen sat for a Leibovitz portrait in 2007, and the head of BBC One later resigned after a documentary was edited to suggest, incorrectly, that the Queen had walked out of the shoot.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II by Annie Leibovitz
Yet Petty does not intend to acquire a Leibovitz. Not one of the 10 “master sets” of 157 of her prints that have been offered privately at an asking price of more than $3m per set; not even a single photo. “No,” he says firmly. “I nearly bought her portrait of the Queen but then I decided against it. She is obviously well-regarded but it is a distinctively American taste, her style of photography.”
It is only one collector’s view but it is a straw in a wind that has been blowing fiercely against Leibovitz, who is struggling to repair her finances, having built up multi-million-dollar debts amid a tangle of personal, professional and property troubles. The woes of one of the world’s highest-paid photographers have mesmerized the media and the art world.
Her troubles emerged publicly a year ago when she was sued by Art Capital, a New York firm that lent her $24m against collateral including her three houses in Greenwich Village and her photographic portfolio. The suit, which she described at the time as “harassment” and was subsequently settled, claimed the right to enter her homes to appraise assets that could be sold to repay the debt.
Leibovitz had been introduced to Art Capital by Ken Starr, a financial adviser whose clients included Hollywood celebrities such as Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone and Martin Scorsese. Starr is now in jail and has pleaded guilty to diverting tens of millions of dollars from his clients’ accounts to his own. Last April, Leibovitz was bought out of the Art Capital arrangement by Colony Capital, a Californian private equity fund, giving her a breathing space.
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If she could sell her prints in galleries or at auction for as much as former fashion and society photographers such as Herb Ritts, Bettina Rheims and Richard Avedon – let alone contemporary artists who work in photography, such as Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Andreas Gursky and Gilbert & George – her financial worries would ease.
So far, she has not. The most that one of her photographs has fetched at public auction, according to Artnet, the online auction house, is £31,200. That was paid in 2005 for a signed print of a 1986 photograph of the (now dead) artist Keith Haring, naked and daubed with paint. Most of her prints auctioned this year have fetched in the single-figure thousands of dollars, and some in the hundreds.
Keith Haring by Annie Leibovitz
It is plenty by most photographers’ standards but works by Sherman, Prince and Gursky have fetched more than $2m ($3m in the latter two cases). Meanwhile, a print of Avedon’s 1957 portrait of Marilyn Monroe sold for $457,000 at Sotheby’s in 2008, and a black and white print of a 1950 Vogue cover by Irving Penn sold for $481,000 at Christie’s the same year (see images below).
“To be honest, the market for her work has never been particularly strong,” says Josh Holdeman, director of photography for Christie’s in New York.
Marisa Cardinale, an adviser hired by Leibovitz to sort out her portfolio and work with dealers and galleries to remedy that, says it reflects her lack of focus in the past. “There is a disparity between Annie’s importance as a photographer and the price fetched by her work in the art market. That was not where she focused her talent and intelligence, until now.”
Marilyn Monroe by Richard Avedon
Even Leibovitz’s doubters, of whom there are many in the gallery and auction world, do not dispute that she is a fine photographer – although some complain at her increased use of digital technology to smooth and manipulate photos. “I don’t think her problems relate to her photography at all. She is very good at what she does,” says Michael Hoppen, a London gallery owner.
The problem is that, as Jeffrey Boloten, a managing director of the ArtInsight consultancy in London, puts it:
Leibovitz has failed this test, at least until she got into her current straits, and her credibility among the movers, shakers and brokers of the art world is low. “She had very little interest in the art world for most of her career,” says Edwynn Houk, a gallery owner in New York who used to represent her. “She suffered from not caring about it, not paying enough attention.”
1950 Vogue cover by Irving Penn
Leibovitz, who would not be interviewed for this article, tacitly concedes the accusation. In a statement, she said: “I’ve always cared more about taking pictures than about the art market. But for some time now we have closely controlled the editioned prints and we are building a network of relationships with dealers and galleries.”
Her change of heart says something about the photography market itself – its sense of having had to struggle to be taken seriously, to be categorised as art in the same way as painting or sculpture. “That has been a concerted effort on everyone’s part, a dedicated campaign to transcend the photography market and enter the bigger one where more money is available,” says Boloten.
The unspoken fear is that, unless everyone pulls together, this three-decade effort could falter, an effort that has done more for the value of photography than any individual – even Annie Leibovitz.
How Annie Leibovitz Got Underwater
Photographer to the stars Annie Leibovitz is in a widely reported financial pickle, but it really comes as no surprise to those close to her, New York reports. Leibovitz is now engaged in baroque legal wrangling over her catalog, but her troubles started earlier. Insiders say a suspected “contract for life” with Vanity Fair and a $250,000 day rate are hogwash, and that she has simply lived above her means for quite some time. “She wanted her life to be like a magazine spread,” an associate says. Friends say her oddball relationship with the late Susan Sontag—“it’s as if Tom Cruise started going out with Akira Kurosowa,” a photog says—could have saved her. “Susan was really prudent about a lot of things,” her sister says. But it was not to be. “Photographers aren’t professional athletes, recording artists, or supermodels,” a source says.
The Real Reason Annie Leibovitz Is Broke
High-profile fashion and society photographers sold some of their works for as much as $3 million, but at auctions this year, most of Leibovitz’s prints have sold for single-figure thousands, or even just hundreds, of dollars. One expert explains that in order to find success, artists must work closely with auction houses and galleries—and Leibovitz hasn’t. “She suffered from not caring about it, not paying enough attention,” says one gallery owner; another adds,
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