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Sharp Focus

Photographer Annie Leibovitz visits the High Museum for new exhibit

Photographer Annie Leibovitz recently came to Atlanta to lead a gallery tour of her latest exhibit at the High Museum of Art.

"Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005," which opened May 12, will be on display through Sept. 9 at the High. The exhibit combines huge prints of Leibovitz's celebrity portraits and professional work with small, framed personal photographs.

Just before the tour began, Leibovitz stood in front of a wall bearing her name in large letters. "I don't think it's big enough. I complained as soon as I walked in," Leibovitz joked.

The photographer, who is known for taking pictures of celebrities, was actually unexpectedly humble. "I am so lucky that it's been such an extraordinary career," she said. " ... I'm very pleased when I can take a good picture."

Leibovitz, 57, has been a photographer for 37 years. "I only wish I had more energy and time," she said.

She decided to display her personal work, along with her professional images, after her children were born and both her long-time partner Susan Sontag and her father died. The exhibit was organized by the Brooklyn Museum.

At the High, as she led the gallery tour, Leibovitz stopped to talk about "My Mother, Clifton Point, 1997."

Leibovitz had a hard time getting her mother not to smile in the picture, but finally got the more serious image she was looking for. "I showed it to her and she didn't like it. My father didn't like it - she wasn't smiling," Leibovitz said.

When Leibovitz's mother attended a gallery show that included the portrait and people who saw it asked for her autograph, she ended up liking the picture.

Another image the photographer talked about while at the High was "Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rob Besserer, Cumberland Island, Georgia, 1990."

Leibovitz spent three weeks on Cumberland Island while taking this picture, which depicts Besserer holding Baryshnikov in the air. "I was interested in the making of the dance," Leibovitz said.

In the photo, Baryshnikov is being lifted to heights he could no longer leap to on his own. "It makes me cry every time I think about it," Leibovitz said.

A picture of Queen Elizabeth is part of the High exhibit. "The queen was amazing. It was astounding to be asked to do that," Leibovitz said.

In 2001, Leibovitz went to the White House to take a group photo of President George W. Bush with Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Andrew H. Card Jr., George Tenent and Donald Rumsfeld.

At the High, the image of Bush and his cabinet hangs next to a similarly composed portrait of filmmaker Michael Moore and his crew. "I like these pictures together. I like how they contradict each other," Leibovitz said.

The personal photographs in the exhibit include shots of Sontag. In 1998, Leibovitz took time off work while Sontag was being treated for cancer. In 2004, Sontag died from leukemia.

"I think for lack of anything better to do around Susan, I took pictures," Leibovitz said. "They became really important because they really told the story about Susan."