The Book That Turned Annie Leibovitz Into a Photographer


You are writing about an intimate relationship with Susan Sontag for the last 15 years of her life. Did she influence your reading habits then?

I met Susan because she wanted me to take a picture of her. She needed a new portrait to promote the book. Her favorite photographer, Thomas Victor, was very ill and soon died of AIDS. We talked and prepared to meet. I was afraid to be alone with her, so I read the New York Times from front to back in preparation for the day. I also read her first novel, The Benefactor. She was impressed with it. She told me she wanted to write fiction, not a critical essay.

After we were together for a while, Susan told me that if I read as slowly as I did, I wouldn’t read anything. It seemed to me that she had inhaled a book. Nevertheless, I asked her to make a book reading list for me. Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway”, Elizabeth Hardwick’s “Sleepless Nights”, Beryl Markham’s “West With the Night”, Joan Didion’s novel “Play It as It Lays”, Thomas Mann’s ” Death in Venice “. She has collected libraries for national homes in the Modern Library and the Everyman edition. I met many writers and artists through her. Oliver Sacks visited her to make access to the pool on the London terrace where we lived.

Of course I read “About Photography” and talked about photography, but she didn’t put me on the path of critical theory.

How do you organize your books?

Alphabetical order. But I’m worried they’re pretty confused right now.

What kind of reader were you when you were a kid? Which childhood books and writers are most obsessed with you?

We moved frequently because my dad was in the Air Force and was moved from base to base every few years. We were in Youngstown, Ohio. Biloxi, Miss. Fairbanks, Alaska; Fort Worth, Texas; Colorado Springs. Once a week, my mother took me to the base and public libraries in the town where we live, and my brothers and sisters and I were sitting on the floor reading books. I remember Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories,” the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale, Virginia Lee Burton’s “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel,” “The Little Lady,” and of course Nancy Drew. I read a copy of my brother Howard’s “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Lord of the Rings”. Somewhere along the way, my mother bought an old bookshelf full of books, including 28 leather books from the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. A few years later, I learned that it was written by the most knowledgeable, opinion-rich and literary scholar of the time.

You are holding a literary dinner party. Which three writers would you like to invite, dead or alive?

I took pictures of the Charleston Farmhouse room and garden in the English countryside, and the Monkshouse house and garden a few miles away where Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived. In Charleston, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant painted walls, floors, furniture, lamps and awnings. The house is very close in my imagination. I fantasize about the dinner party there. Woolf and various other Bloomsbury figures will be guests: EM Forster, Lytton Strachey, Dora Carrington, John Maynard Keynes and his wife, Lydia Lopokova. Maybe Frederick Ashton and Vitasackville West and TS Eliot.


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