She Photographs With Love

Annie Leibovitz

“I’ve gone up 1000% percent because I can say I met you,” says Dede Wilsey.

She’s referring to a 2:00 am conversation she had in her kitchen with son Todd Traina the night before introducing Annie Leibovitz to members of the media at the Legion of Honor. When she told Todd she was going to meet the legendary photographer, he started gushing about how much of a fan he is. And as he kept talking, the clock approached 3:00. “I’m so glad you love her. I have to go to bed,” she responded.

Finally Todd summed up what it is that he likes about her work.

“Well, she photographs with love,” he said.

“That’s wonderful,” said Mrs. Wilsey. “I love you dear. Good night.”

Indeed, love was very much in the air at the Legion of Honor during the opening of the Leibovitz exhibit — the love the photographer has for the people in her personal photographs, and the love her fans have for her full body of work.

It was an emotional day for Annie, whose career began in San Francisco. “It’s pretty heady stuff to be here today,” she said, after choking up for a moment at the morning presentation. “It means so much. It means so much, especially in the wake of this show, of this work.”

Later that evening, when speaking to museum supporters who got an advanced peak at the show, she said “I’ve been trying to get back to San Francisco ever since Jann Wenner lifted Rolling Stone up and took it to New York. It means so much to me to be here like this. I mean this is – it doesn’t get any better than this. I have a lot of family still here in the Bay Area. And you should know, as you go through the show, you’ll see these people.”

She explained that the work came out of a particularly important period of her life.

“The work – the book and the show — came out of a moment. Susan Sontag had died. My father had died. And it was out of that grief that I turned and looked at my work and discovered work within my work that was more important to me than my assignment work,” she said.

“In my barns in upstate New York I took my personal work and I put it on one wall. And I put my assignment work on another wall. Those walls, by the way, are recreated in the show [see above]. And then I merged the work together. But it was really an extraordinary time to basically help me through the grieving process to look through this work. I’m really lucky that I had these pictures.

As more time passes from when I actually took these pictures, and from when I edited these pictures for the show and the book, I realized that I don’t know if I would do it again. It came out of that moment. And I probably wouldn’t do it again. So enjoy it!”

Here is your rare chance to see this work up close and life-size. It takes on a whole other power outside the magazine page, as I discovered when I turned a corner and saw her recent magnificent portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (which I write about here.) I hope you get a chance to see it all for yourself.

What: “Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life”
Where: Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco
When: Saturday March 1 through May 25, 2008. 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday. Closed Monday.
Admission: $15, with discounts for seniors and students. Free 12 and younger.
Information: (415) 750-3600, www.legionofhonor.org