Annie Leibovitz. The Early Years, 1970 – 1983: Archive Project No. 1 at Hauser and Wirth Los Angeles, is an engrossing look into the beginnings of a photographer who is now one of the most famous in the world. The exhibition, curated by Leibovitz herself, features more than 4,000 photographs. Despite that large number, the layout keeps it from feeling overwhelming. Photographs are put together on the walls by theme and time period. As you wander from room to room looking at the often recognizable faces, Leibovitz’s distinct style emerges.
The early sections of the show give the viewer a chance to see Annie Leibovitz as a young artist just starting out and developing her way of looking at the world through a camera. On one wall is a collage of photos creating a panorama of the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris. She took it when she realized she was standing where Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the photographers she most admired, had once stood to photograph that same bridge. The sense of excitement she felt at that moment informs the image she would later take of Cartier-Bresson himself. That portrait is included on another wall with images of other photographers and artists she admired.
Walking from room to room, the famous faces blend together with the history of the time period. Political protests, music festivals and tours, presidential campaigns, Nixon’s resignation, Warhol’s factory- she was there documenting what was happening, often in unique ways. Her ability to observe and capture moments without intruding in her subject’s personal space remains present whether it is a rock star, politician, or a member of her own family.
As the show moves through Leibovitz’s timeline, her increased focus on the portraiture that would make her famous emerges. Her staged photographs from the 1980s of celebrities including Keith Haring, Whoopi Goldberg, and Meryl Streep appear. The transition makes logistical sense as this progression of her career is made clear by all the work that came before. Her portraits are the works that stand out the most, even at the beginning.
The exhibition captures an incredible period of time in both the artist’s work and the history of America. Make sure to leave a lot of time to see it before it closes on 4/14/19.