How Annie Leibovitz got Keith Haring to go black and white

In Annie Leibovitz at Work the photographer reveals the fascinating story behind her photo of the great artist
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Keith Haring, New York City, 1986. Photograph: © Annie Leibovitz. From ‘Annie Leibovitz At Work’
Keith Haring, New York City, 1986. Photograph: © Annie Leibovitz. From ‘Annie Leibovitz At Work’

All the photographs in our new book, Annie Leibovitz At Work, deserve your attention, but not all of them got the attention they deserved, shortly after she first shot them.

Though best known for her work with Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, Leibovitz worked for a number of different publications over the years, some more successful than others. In 1986, a magazine in Florida commissioned Annie to photograph the artist Keith Haring. However, the magazine folded before it was able to publish Annie’s shots of the brilliant young painter. It’s a shame, as Annie and Keith put together quite a set of images.

“Keith and I talked on the phone and I asked him if he had ever painted himself,” she explains in the book. “He said no, although a couple of years earlier Andy Warhol had arranged for him to paint Grace Jones and to have Robert Mapplethorpe photograph her when Keith was finished.

“We decided that he would paint his torso for me. We shot it in the studio, on a set constructed to look like someone’s living room, then painted it white. When Keith arrived he painted the room with black lines in less than forty-five minutes. Then he painted his upper body in about five minutes. When he came out of the dressing room he was wearing white painters’ pants, but it just seemed obvious to both of us at that point that he should paint the rest of him.

Annie Leibovitz, Brooklyn, New York, 2017. Photograph: © Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz, Brooklyn, New York, 2017. Photograph: © Annie Leibovitz

“It’s hard to paint yourself. Keith did only the front. I loved the way he painted his penis. It was so witty, with an elongated line. The pictures took only a few minutes, and when we finished, Keith didn’t want to stop. He said he felt dressed and wanted to go out. I suggested we go to Times Square, which was a few blocks away. This was 1986, and it was still pretty rough. The peep shows and the porn houses were still there. In the car on the way over I told my assistants that we were going to have to work fast because we’d probably get arrested.

“I photographed Keith in back of the statue of George M. Cohan in Duffy Square and in front of a bank. It was a cold winter night and this painted, naked guy was walking around, and nobody, including a couple of policemen who were there, paid any attention to us.”

 

For a short time, signed copies of Annie Leibovitz At Work are available in our store

For more great tales from her long and successful career, as well as insider info on how she shoots such great photographs, order a copy of Annie Leibovitz At Work here.

 


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