This early-career retrospective features more than 4,000 photos from the acclaimed portrait photographer, starting with her work for Rolling Stone in the 1970s.
When you set foot inside Hauser & Wirth’s north gallery, you’re greeted with a wall-filling timeline of the 1970s that’s comically meticulous in its detail. But once you round the corner of the wall, it’s clear why: Annie Leibovitz was there for seemingly all of it.
The artist dug through her archives to handpick this early-career collection of works that meant the most to her, arranged chronologically and thematically in the Arts District gallery. “I lived with my camera, I never went home,” said Leibovitz during an exhibition walkthrough, and the photos prove it.
Her Rolling Stone cover photos from the ’70s are indelible parts of pop culture history, and those instantly recognizable shots are certainly on display (think David Cassidy nude, a fiery Patti Smith, and a naked John Lennon embracing Yoko Ono shot hours before he was murdered).
But the most remarkable parts of this early-career retrospective are the moments in between, all captured with fly-on-the-wall candor (“No one paid me any bit of attention because I was a woman,” she says). Candid shots of Jerry Garcia and Dennis Hopper occupy the same space as behind-the-scenes photos of an always-smoking Hunter S. Thompson, with whom Leibovitz worked extensively. There’s Richard Nixon’s fall, Jerry Brown’s rise and the surge of cults. And then there’s her documentation of a 1975 Rolling Stones tour, with no drug-addled details spared. (“It took me a while to get off the tour,” remarked Leibovitz about the experience).
There are also plenty of subjects important to Leibovitz’s personal history: a visit to see her father on an Air Force base in the Philippines, tender portraits of her family, and a series that features of photographic heroes, including Andy Warhol, Richard Avedon, Ansel Adams, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others. There’s a lot to see here, but as Leibovitz suggests, it’s not meant to be picked apart photo by photo: “You’re meant to go through it and find things that interest you.” For many visitors, that may very well translate to pretty much all of it.