Leibovitz’s Print Sales Not Helping Her Debt Troubles

Annie Leibovitz has been trying to extract herself from a financial hole by offering master sets of 157 prints for more than $3 million each, but collectors are apparently balking, according to a recent story by John Gapper in the Financial Times. And at recent auctions, he reports, Leibovitz’s prints have been fetching less than $10,000, and sometimes even less than $1,000. “Despite all her celebrity and talent,” Gapper writes, “Leibovitz lacks earning powers as an artist.”

The reason for that, he essentially says, is that she hasn’t sucked up to the art world. Although she’s had relationships with various art galleries, she has devoted her energy almost entirely to commercial and editorial work, and failed to take the sage marketing advice of dealers to print very limited editions and sign them.

Gapper’s sources raise questions about the intrinsic artistic value of Leibovitz’s commercial work–most of it celebrity portraits. But he points out that Irving Penn and Richard Avedon managed to succeed as both artists and commercial photographers. Leibovitz could do the same, Gapper suggests, if only she could cultivate a perception of scarcity.

But Gapper overlooks the fact that Avedon and Penn made it in the fine art world on the strength of their personal work, not their editorial or advertising work. That isn’t to say that Leibovitz’s images of Demi Moore and Queen Elizabeth and other celebrities don’t have value. To her commercial clients, her work is worth quite a lot. But it’s hard to imagine how she can clamber into the pantheon of notable art photographers on the strength of those images alone, even if she does make amends with dealers and gallerists.

8 Responses to “Leibovitz’s Print Sales Not Helping Her Debt Troubles”

  1. David W. Sumnmer Says:

    “Avedon and Penn made it in the fine art world on the strength of their personal work, not their editorial or advertising work.”

    This is exactly the reason.

  2. Gimme Says:

    maybe she should cut off her ear and photograph it on a plate of leftovers next to a waiter’s tip

  3. Juan Calvillo Says:

    David has it right, expecting a collector to care about a photo taken to illustrate a story or sell a product isn’t going to work most of the time. Art comes from the heart, something ad agencies & the press know nothing about.

  4. jon Says:

    Have seen her work for many years. But can’t think of any one picture I’d buy as a collector. Last thing I’d want on my wall is a print of an overexposed celebrity. And who would be crazy enough to spend $3 million on her work?

  5. Annie Leibovitz in debt: nobody likes her photos? | ALAFOTO.com Says:

    [...] But Gapper overlooks the fact that Avedon and Penn made it in the fine art world on the strength of their personal work, not their editorial or advertising work. That isn’t to say that Leibovitz’s images of Demi Moore and Queen Elizabeth and other celebrities don’t have value. To her commercial clients, her work is worth quite a lot. But it’s hard to imagine how she can clamber into the pantheon of notable art photographers on the strength of those images alone, even if she does make amends with dealers and gallerists. (pdnpulse.com) [...]

  6. Fotoman Says:

    … than others do. Classic case of a photographer (or musician or other artist) believing their own hype and publicity. Richard and Irving were gentlemen and reserved, Annie overbearing. Her value of $3 million for her collection reminds me of real estate pricing BEFORE the crash.

  7. Jeff Greenberg Says:

    ” Leibovitz’s prints have been fetching less than $10,000, and sometimes even less than $1,000.”

    $1K to $10K for continuous volume of prints is way more per print than 95% of fine art photographers will ever realize, IMO.

  8. 3146 Says:

    Her photographic output now carries with it the smell of financial desperation rather than artistic inspiration.