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Annie Leibovitz mentors 1,000 budding Arkansas photographers

Work on display at NWA museum by Bill Bowden | September 17, 2023 at 3:12 a.m.
Annie Leibovitz answers questions from aspiring young photographers at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville on Saturday. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

BENTONVILLE -- Annie Leibovitz talked to a thousand aspiring Arkansas photographers on Saturday.

Or thereabouts.

The famed portrait photographer was in Bentonville last week for various activities surrounding the opening of her exhibit, "Annie Leibovitz at Work," at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

The exhibit, which opened Saturday, will continue through Jan. 29.

On Saturday morning, Leibovitz led three groups of about 300 teenagers each through the gallery at Crystal Bridges and talked about her photographs on display. It was part of a teen photography mentorship program at the museum.

One photograph shows the helicopter in which Richard Nixon was spirited from the White House after his resignation in 1974.

Leibovitz said she was elbowed off to the perimeter of the press photographer pack. She was the only female there, just 24 years old at the time, and shooting for Rolling Stone magazine.

The veteran, hard-core White House photographers had staked out their places to get photographs of Nixon boarding the helicopter and waving goodbye.

But from the edge, Leibovitz got one of the most memorable photographs of the day -- a wide view of three guards rolling up the red carpet as the helicopter in the background lifted off and the rotor whipped up a breeze that had the guards holding their hats.

"Nixon takes off, and all the veteran photographers are walking off the field, and I'm kind of over there by myself," said Leibovitz. "I turn around and I see this moment and I take it. It's an off moment. It's not the moment.

"And now, today, we see that all the time. It's like, photographers, that's what they look for. But at the time, most news photography was doing close-ups, headshots and things like that."

Leibovitz said to be a good photographer, it helps to be obsessive if not a little crazy.


"When you're young, you guys, you've gotta be obsessed. You gotta figure to be crazy," she said. "You've gotta have your camera on you all the time. You've got to be thinking, you know, what are you seeing in front of you. And it's really learning how to see. And ... how to photograph the moment."

Marta Knodle, manager of youth and family programs at Crystal Bridges, said the event for teenagers was open to anyone who registered, but limited to 1,000 participants.

"We wanted to make it as accessible as possible, so we opened it up for anyone that wanted to participate, keeping in mind the cap of about 1,000 people just for capacity," she said.

The teenagers will be paired with a local photographer -- Ashley Lewis, Meredith Mashburn or Brandon Watts -- to serve as a mentor. The kids will meet periodically with their mentor through January and work on a photo project during that time.

Photographs the teenagers take will be displayed in a room at the museum's studio area from Nov. 18 through the time that Leibovitz' exhibit is on display, said Knodle.

"They're going to take what Annie Leibovitz talks about today and they're just going to apply it in a way that the team can really learn something about photography, wherever they're at, whether basic and even if they have some more advanced knowledge," she said. "So wherever they're at is where we're meeting them, and the mentors are going to take them through some more educational aspects of photography, working with the camera ... working with whatever picture taking device that they might have."

During a lecture at Crystal Bridges on Friday night, Leibovitz said she takes a lot of personal photos now on her iPhone.

"To this day, my favorite photographs are still photographs of my family," she said Saturday.

Olivia Sanders, 16, of Rogers said it was "really inspiring" to see the breadth of Leibovitz's photo work, from the beginning to recent, and to hear Leibovitz's talk about how she got started in photography as a student at the San Francisco Art Institute.

"She was very real about her experiences and how she's kind of socially awkward," said Sanders. "It was cool to see that she's just herself."

"It was a really fun and eye-opening experience to listen to her speak and how everything happened in her life," said Addison Frazier, 17, of Bentonville. "And all of her pictures are so beautiful."

Georgia Shea, 16, of Branson said she thought it was particularly interesting when Leibovitz talked about having a disconnect with writers working on stories that she was photographing.

"How sometimes ... she would have her own vision when it came to the picture, have her own side of the story that she was just thinking inside, and how you can be reading one thing but just the still picture itself can tell a whole 'nother story," said Shea.

"There are some things that just don't need words."

  photo  Annie Leibovitz answers questions on Saturday Sept. 16 2023 from aspiring young photographers at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

  photo  Teens with a photography interest view on Saturday Sept. 16 2023 pictures shot by Annie Leibovitz and hear her remarks during tours of her exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentoville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
 Flip Putthoff 

Print Headline: Leibovitz motivates teen photographers


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