Annie Leibovitz on Caitlyn Jenner, being a mother to young daughters, and her new photography exhibition

The photographer Annie Leibovitz has revealed a new family portrait of her and her three daughters, to mark the launch of an exhibition, ‘WOMEN: New Portraits’, which will open in London in January 2016.

The work is a continuation of ‘Women’, a project started in 1999 with Susan Sontag, a book and exhibition which opened at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington. “I wasn’t sure at the time about doing something like that. The subject was just too big, too broad and I had my concerns about it, if it wouldn’t work,” said Leibovitz at a press conference in London last week.

But working with Sontag convinced her that it was the right thing to do, and the project is now continuing with a commission from financial services firm UBS, which will take it to ten cities around the world.

Annie Leibovitz. New York City. 2012 © Annie Leibovitz. Press pic
Annie Leibovitz in New York, 2012

The family photograph is the only image to be revealed ahead of the London showing, but other subjects will include Serena Williams, Amy Schumer, ballet dancer Misty Copeland, activist Gloria Steinem and chef Alice Waters.

The image shows Leibovitz (66) with Sarah (14), and Susan and Samuelle (10) in Rhinebeck, New York, and was shot using a mirror which has distorted the picture somewhat so the family appears thinner, which surprised her team. But Leibovitz, addressing the conference, said: “I liked it a lot because it was a really inexpensive, cheap mirror and I looked really thin. I love this!

“My art director said ‘you can’t publish this’, you look too thin, and I said ‘no I love this’. The dog looks a little funny.”

Leibovitz has been known to work creatively with images, sometimes by changing the background as she did on a shoot in New York last year with Lena Dunham for Vogue.

She’s also changed the setting for a shoot with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. “We did Kanye West and Kim Kardashian in LA and I really wanted to shoot them in Paris, so I had one of my assistants shoot a background in Paris, and then we just stuck them [together] as if they were walking through Paris,” she said.

Call me Caitlyn

Leibovitz also spoke about her Vanity Fair shoot with Caitlyn Jenner, whose portrait will feature in the exhibition. “The whole effort was to make her feel as comfortable in who she is and make her look as good as she possibly can look and we were basically building… it was sort of creating a person.

“It is kind of interesting to realise that gender is very diversified and you can’t just put it into male/female, there is more to [it].”

She added that she was keen that Jenner’s cover image was not retouched. “I felt that on some level she was already retouched, the face, she was so re-formed already. I did wonder about gender change [and] who has the ways and means to be able to do something like that, and she is in a very special place.”

Having three children since the original ‘Women’ project launched in 1999 has made Leibovitz more ’empathetic’ to families who travel with youngsters, but she says parenthood hasn’t affected how she takes pictures. She became pregnant with her first child Sarah at 52, and Samuelle and Susan were given birth to by a surrogate mother.

“When I got the call that the surrogate was pregnant with twins I was very, very excited and later I found out that it was two girls, and I said ‘I’m going to have three girls’. And of course anyone who has children knows it doesn’t matter if you have boys or girls, it’s like endless dynamics, I don’t know how to wear a dress and I’m raising three girls.”

WOMEN: New Portraits will run at Wapping Hydraulic Power Station from 16 January to 7 February 2016 and is free. It will tour nine other cities around the world, and the commissioning partner is UBS. Visit the Annie Leibovitz exhibition.