How Annie Leibovitz captured Rihanna's sexuality

In Portraits 2005–2016, Annie Leibovitz emphasises the singer's sex appeal without reducing her to a sex symbol
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Rihanna, Havana, Cuba, 2015 by Annie Leibovitz, © Annie Leibovitz
Rihanna, Havana, Cuba, 2015 by Annie Leibovitz, © Annie Leibovitz

How do you photograph a star such as Rihanna? The 29-year-old, Barbados-born recording artist's stated ambition was to become the "black Madonna", and Madonna's rise was, in no small part, built around her ever-present sex appeal. However, Rihanna is also an astute businesswoman, an incredibly talented songwriter and a high-profile survivor of domestic abuse. She was assaulted by then-boyfriend Chris Brown on 8 February 2009, hours before the Grammy awards, causing the singer to cancel her performance. 

To reduce her to a "bad girl" cliché would be unforgivable, yet to deny any representation of her sex appeal would be equally problematic. The award-winning US photographer Annie Leibovitz overcame this challenge on behalf of Vanity Fair, and the images can be seen in our new book, Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005–2016.

 

Annie Leibovitz, 2012. Photograph © Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz, 2012. Photograph © Annie Leibovitz

Leibovitz accompanied Rihanna to the Caribbean, shooting the star at Bar la Rosa, on La Rosa Street in Havana, Cuba. The red colourway of the photo offers just a hint of sexuality, while the 1956 Lincoln Continental – once owned by the Cuban president's wife Marta Fernández de Batista – highlights Rihanna's status as a West Indies VIP and latterday First Lady of Pop. Very clever, we think you'll agree. 

 

Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005–2016

For a longer look at Annie Leibovitz’s sumptuous photographs order a copy of our signed, limited-edition of Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005–2016 here; exclusive to Phaidon.com, each limited edition is signed and numbered and presented in a beautiful and elegant slipcase.


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