How Annie Leibovitz captured Stephen Hawking's willpower

In Portraits 2005–2016, Leibovitz visualises the professor's sheer determination to push his life's work forward
Professor Stephen Hawking, Cambridge, England, 2017, Photograph by Annie Leibovitz © Annie Leibovitz
Professor Stephen Hawking, Cambridge, England, 2017, Photograph by Annie Leibovitz © Annie Leibovitz

In 1963, Professor Stephen Hawking contracted motor neurone disease and was given two years to live. The young man, nicknamed 'Einstein' by his childhood friends, responded to this diagnosis by going to Cambridge and becoming a brilliant researcher and Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College. From 1979 to 2009 he held the post of Lucasian Professor, the chair held by Isaac Newton in 1663. 

Hawking went on to accrue over a dozen honorary degrees and was awarded the CBE in 1982. He is a fellow of the Royal Society and a member of the US National Academy of Science. He's regarded as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein himself.

This week (Monday October 23) he ‘broke the internet’ - or at least a small part of it - when he finally made his 1966 PHD thesis available to the general public for the first time. Cambridge University’s repository site collapsed due to the number of people wanting to download it. 


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

The thesis swiftly become the most-requested item in Cambridge’s open access repository, Apollo. Hawking simply said: “I hope to inspire people around the world to look up at the stars and not down at their feet; to wonder about our place in the universe and to try and make sense of the cosmos.”

We're sure Annie Leibovitz shares at least the first part of that sentiment. Her photograph of Hawking captures the intricacy of the machinery that enables him to communicate the thoughts inside what has been called the most brilliant mind on planet earth.

Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005–2016
Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005–2016

And, if you would like to catch Annie in person, then come along to the remaining dates on her book tour. She will be talking about her work at The New School in New York today 25 October. And she will be signing copies of Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005–2016 at Union Square Barnes & Noble, New York tomorrow 26 October. Go here for further information.

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