How Annie Leibovitz saw Nicole Kidman's face light up

Turns out some people are truly photogenic as the legendary photographer explains in her new book
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Nicole Kidman, Charleston, East Sussex, England, 1997. Photograph by © Annie Leibovitz. Shot for Vanity Fair. From ‘Annie Leibovitz At Work’
Nicole Kidman, Charleston, East Sussex, England, 1997. Photograph by © Annie Leibovitz. Shot for Vanity Fair. From ‘Annie Leibovitz At Work’

“One of the oldest clichés about portrait photographs, particularly Hollywood portrait photography, is that the camera loves certain people’s faces,” writes Annie Leibovitz in her new book Annie Leibovitz At Work. “I resisted that idea for a long time.”

Today, Leibovitz knows there are people who are naturally photogenic. “You see it when you are setting up a portrait with a stand-in,” she explains. “You’re having a miserable time and nothing looks right and then the subject walks in and everything is transformed.”

One of the people who changed Annie’s mind about this peculiar star quality was Nicole Kidman. "There’s not a bad way to photograph her,” Leibovitz says. 

“In 1997, when Nicole Kidman was in England, making the Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut, I brought her to Charleston, the former home of [Bloomsbury Group artists] Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, in Sussex,” she reveals in the book, Annie Leibovitz At Work.

 

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

“Kubrick had asked her to stay out of the sun for a year or something before they started filming, and her skin was very white,” says the photographer. “She sat on the edge of the bed wearing nothing but a black turtleneck sweater, looking directly at the camera. Everything that you would think would make her a movie star was stripped away, and she still held the picture.”

Leibovitz reveals other stars who’ve displayed the same qualities. “Cate Blanchett is another. She’s always interesting. And Susan Sarandon. Catherine Deneuve. She just becomes Catherine Deneuve. Johnny Depp has it.”

But, despite what you might think, the quality isn’t restricted to the conventionally attractive. “Tom Waits is not 'beautiful'” she writes. “Nor is Daniel Day-Lewis. Or at any rate they aren’t at this particular moment in time. The standards of beauty are more or less fashion trends. William Burroughs was certainly not beautiful, but he was a photographer’s dream. The camera loved that gaunt, sinister look.”

“What I’m talking about is not always immediately visible to the naked eye,” she goes on. “You sometimes become aware of it during the shoot when you look at a Polaroid or at the screen of a monitor. And it’s not just that the camera loves these people’s faces.

“There are quirky things about them that are also beautiful to photograph. The way Nicole Kidman looks from behind when she walks away, for instance. The way she stands. Not many people are good at standing.”

 

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

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


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