life . Portrait . street

Madison, WI


Fontana Giusti


First things first, the prompt

John and Yoko - Annie Leibovitz, 1980

Does this really need an introduction?

Alright, Annie Leibovitz's a fancy photographer. So what?

She photographed every famous face on Earth, people who are used to the spotlight and the attention of a photographic lens, and now she works for Condé Nast. She’s one of today’s the most sought after photographer in certain industries. So yes, she’s fancy, and yes, she works with people who know how to hold themselves in front of a lens, and still, when you see an image from Annie Leibovitz, it’s special, it hits different.

So what makes her work stand out so much? We talked at length about this with the group of artists at The Artists Collab/The Art Lab. And one of the most striking things she seems to consistently achieve, is to create a connection and hold that connection with her subjects; it’s like they drop their guard when she photographs them, she shows them as people, glamorous, yes, but people, with their flaws and vulnerabilities. And that skill, that ability to connect is what sets her truly apart. 

You have to reveal yourself, show your cards, be vulnerable yourself to allow a connection like that to happen. It takes a special touch, very gentle, that lets situations be and happen, while directing the scene to get the image you want, to achieve such a connection. I don’t know Annie, and probably will never get close to her, but I feel like she must be a truly candid person, in the best sense of the term.

And then there’s composition. 

In a world flooded by subject-centered images, rule of thirds, and other low hanging compositional tools, Annie Leibovitz excels in the art of complex and unexpected compositions. The types of scenes that make your eye travel, wander, go back and look again. It’s never boring, it’s masterful.

Simone Biles - Annie Leibovitz for Vogue, 2020
Arnold Schwarzenegger - Annie Leibovitz, 1970
Queen Elizabeth - Annie Leibovitz, 2016
Demi Moore - Annie Leibovitz, 1991
Meryl Streep - Annie Leibovitz, 1981
Annie Leibovitz for Vogue Magazine, 2023

How I let this inspire me

Diving too deep is just a sure way to never create again, because how do you follow such work? You don’t. Right?

So what I did, is I pledged to make portraits of my family, in a very deliberate and intentional way. Paying special attention to the environment (widening my angle), and to composition. I also took a few images of my friend Maddie, for her birthday, and I’ll include them at the bottom of this article.

So without further ado, here are the people I photographed:

My dad (on digital):

This series of portraits is my birthday present to my father.

We met this summer in Valle d’Aosta and in Sicily, and it did not go exactly well, which apparently is normal for us. Anyways, it was difficult to find a time when he was into posing and when I felt the right way to do do it, and this was it.

We went to the Segesta temple at opening time, also because it was so darn hot, and we both found ourselves in the right mood.

And the setting is magnificent, I believe Annie would approve my use of a wide angle lens.

He actually slept under the stars in this temple when he was a student, some 40 years ago. How times have changed…

This series of portraits of my siblings and himself are being turned into a book, for his 60th birthday, along with other family pictures, environmental images and street shots I made during this week in Sicily. 

My twin sister (on digital + Holga):

My favorite // Holga GFN - Fuji Acros 100
Aurelia's favorite // exposed properly at f.11
way overexposed at f.4 (ISO was 3200 by mistake), ajusted in post, looks cross-processed
way overexposed at f.4 (ISO was 3200 by mistake), adjusted in post

My brother (on digital):

Inspired heavily by Annie's portrait of Keith Haring
This one feels like "Adam, photographed in Eden for National Geographic"
By then I'd let go of Annie's inspiration and fully embraced the Michelangean look
Or Botticellian...

This series, with Lorenzo is my favorite. I initially offered the concept to my father, but he shrugged it off as an absurd idea, so when Lorenzo embraced it wholly, accepting to wake up before sunrise, I was overjoyed, and we went for it with wild abandon, and as a reward we went for a dawn swim before everybody else got up…

My husband (on film - Kodak Gold, in golden light, with the Olympus OM2):

He looks mad in these photographs, and in truth, he was. It was a loaded vacation, and we had plenty of reasons for anger…

Street Photographer Maddie Mason, for her birthday (on film):
Kodak ProImage in the Nikon F2 / Kentmere 400 in the Holga GFN

Now my fear is that anyone reading this will compare my work to Annie Leibovitz’s, but I’ll live with it: she’s been doing this for much longer than I have, she charges waaaaaaaaaay more (I suppose, I haven’t exactly checked, but it seems reasonable to assume), she has teams of people working for and with her, and she has access to resources and locations I can only dream of, so please be gentle in your comparisons… 

On the other hand, if you think my portraits are cool, please be in touch, I want to work with you ❤️

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