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In 1970, not yet out of art school in San Francisco, Annie Leibovitz landed a job as a Rolling Stone photographer on a $47-a-week retainer. "I believed I was supposed to catch life going by me—that I wasn't to alter it or tamper with it," she recalls here. But on her first out-of-town assignment, John Lennon showed such eagerness to respond to her that she changed her philosophy: From then on, her portraits would be collaborations.
Those collaborations could take a toll, as with her remarkable round-the-clock record of the Rolling Stones 1975 American tour. "I went to hell and back," she says. "The camera helped me survive."
When Leibovitz left Rolling Stone in 1983 she was as famous as many of her subjects. Through her subsequent associations with Vanity Fair and American Express, her photographs have become slicker and more theatrical. But her famous subjects (Ella Fitzgerald, Dennis Hopper) still appear at ease in front of her camera.
The only photo in this book with a specific date (Dec. 8, 1980) is the portrait of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, taken just hours before he was killed. John, nude, lies in a fetal position wrapped around a clothed, reclining Yoko. It poignantly captures Lennon's vulnerability and is probably Leibovitz's most famous photo (the cover of Bruce Springsteen's 1984 Born in the USA album, with its American flag background, may be a close second).
She's still making waves—witness her Vanity Fair cover last August of a nude, pregnant Demi Moore. This extraordinary 20-year retrospective may quickly be eclipsed by the photographer's continuing triumphs. (HarperCollins, $60)