„The Early Years“ at Hauser & Wirth Gallery, Los Angeles traces Annie Leibovitz’s development as a young talent, capturing the dramatic cultural and political shifts of the Seventies. Arranged chronologically and thematically, the exhibition begins with her work for Rolling Stone magazine and visually chronicles the defining moments and key protagonists of the decade.
Over the course of her career, Leibovitz became an avatar of the changing cultural role of photography as an artistic medium. The images on view reveal her singular ability to merge the tactics of portraiture and photojournalism with profound humanism and sly wit. The exhibition also includes Leibovitz’s photographs of artists who became her personal heroes – Andy Warhol, Richard Avedon, Ansel Adams, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others.
Curated by Leibovitz, ‘The Early Years’ can be seen as an excavation of self. The artist personally selected what she believes to be the most significant images taken during the an especially formative period in her career – an array of images and subjects that reveal her internal dialogue, motivations, and insights. The exhibition will be complemented by an artist book published by Hauser & Wirth Publishers titled ‘Archive Project No. 1,’ which Leibovitz conceived as a reference tool that expresses her working method and the obsessiveness of taking photographs – an immersive and tactile experience of her accumulated history.
Leibovitz bought her first camera in the summer of 1968 after her freshman year as a student at the San Francisco Art Institute. Hauser & Wirth’s exhibition begins with photographs taken during this formative time in Northern California and is punctuated by images of the Bay Area landscape and photographs shot during drives Leibovitz often took on the highways between San Francisco and Los Angeles. While still a student, Leibovitz approached Rolling Stone magazine in 1970 – just three years after its inception – with a few of her photographs.
After two of her images were published, she switched majors from painting to photography, and embarked on what would develop into a symbiotic relationship between the young photographer and a magazine that became famous for reflecting the American zeitgeist.
The exhibition includes reportage of major political moments of the Seventies in the United States, such as the 1972 presidential campaign which she covered with the writer Hunter S. Thompson. In another poignant photograph from the resignation of Richard Nixon on August 9, 1974, Leibovitz’s camera records his helicopter as it takes off from the White House lawn.
Leibovitz’s immersion within the political landscape is further demonstrated through a series of photographs from the 1976 election, when figures such as Jerry Brown and Jimmy Carter seized national attention. Images from the Democratic National Convention in New York City showcase candid moments between Dianne Feinstein, and journalists such as Sally Quinn and Dan Rather. Leibovitz’s unobtrusive lens implicates both the photographer and her peers as significant actors and contributors to particular cultural moments.
Similarly, when traveling with the Rolling Stones to document their tour of the Americas in the summer of 1975, Leibovitz entered the band’s world to such a degree that only her camera served as a reminder of her identity. In one such image on view in the exhibition, a cadre of frenzied fans storm a chain link fence outside a stadium in Cleveland, OH, where the Rolling Stones were performing.
It was Leibovitz’s distinct ability to immerse herself in varying environments that enabled a direct engagement with her subjects, revealing their true, honest, and perhaps most vulnerable selves.