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A poignant portrait of our era's most provocative shooter.
by Alysha Sideman

Annie Leibovitz: A Life Through a Lens DVD cover.
Brad Pitt as captured by Annie Leibovitz.
source: Courtesy of Warner Home Video

In October 2006, Annie Leibovitz visited a popular Washington, D.C. bookstore called Politics and Prose and conducted a talk on her new book A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005.

The book's genius was the way it interwove the photographer's own personal life and family with the high-profile lives and families she captures. The book documented such geometrically-opposed scenerios as her partner, the writer Susan Sontag, on vacation with her in Venice and a group shot of the entire cabinet of the Bush administration. It proved what we all may have suspected--that Leibovitz shoots all the time; probably never puts that camera down.

As a participant of the talk, I found the photographer's presence not unlike other major imagemakers of our time with one exception. She was shy. It was easy to see how photography is the perfect way for her to be out there, engaged in the world, while still being able to hide behind the camera. It was difficult for her to communicate without a camera in hand.

"It's the closest thing to who I am that I've ever done," she said of the book, as she concluded her presentation that day. Now a new release, in DVD form, seems to mirror the beauty of that book and open the door wider as to who this woman-- a photographer who captured John Lennon on the day he died, who traveled with the Rolling Stones and rose to be Vanity Fair's golden girl -garnering cover after cover - is really all about.

PBS orginally premiered the aptly titled ANNIE LEIBOVITZ: A LIFE THROUGH A LENS back in December 2006 as part of their award-winning American Masters series - specials that examine the lives, works and creative processes of outstanding cultural artists.

Like the book A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005, the DVD weaves in perfect fashion Leibovitz's personal life and legacy with her worklife, and is peppered with one exclusive celebrity shoot after another. But this is Leibovitz like you've never seen. The film opens with various celebrities trying to pronounce the photographer's "odd" last name and gains momentum as the shooter lets loose. We get a unique glimpse into her big world: how she works with clients, how she photographs, how it all began for her in the early days of Rolling Stone magazine and what her own life means. Directed by her sister, Barbara, this personal film depicts the key phases that shaped her life and work including her childhood and how the deaths of Sontag and her father from cancer changed her life in the same way that having her children has.

ANNIE LEIBOVITZ: A LIFE THROUGH A LENS, released by Warner Home Video on October 28, 2008, includes never before seen footage of interviews by top celebrities and newsmakers. Giants such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Demi Moore talk about what it's like to be captured by her. Presented in a digestible documentary style, the DVD covers her successes as well as her missteps as the most controversial portrait photographer.

For example, it covers the making and story behind the concept of the controversial image of a "very" naked and pregnant Demi Moore for the cover of Vanity Fair.

This DVD seems to trace the arc of her photographic life, her aspirations to artistry and the trajectory of her career. The film depicts the various phases that shaped her life including childhood, the tumultuous sixties, her transition to Vanity Fair magazine and later her most significant personal relationships including motherhood. The documentary's highlights center on interviews with her most famous subjects, mentors and colleagues - along with personal insight from Leibovitz herself - to reveal her evolution.

Some special categories of the DVD that can be easily skipped to include:

* Photo Stories: Interviews with Leibovitz's popular subjects as they reveal the details that brought about each famous picture including Demi Moore, Patti Smith, Yoko Ono and many others.

* Process: interviews with the Hillary Clinton, Anna Wintour on Leibovitz's process and how Vanity Fair's "Hollywood Issue" came about.

* Commercial Work: Leibovitz and colleagues discuss the distinctions between her personal and professional endeavors.

* Celebrity: Colleagues muse about Leibovitz as a celebrity herself

* Work Ethic: A look into Leibovitz's incredible work ethic

* Fashion: Leibovitz's imprint in creating some of history's most fashionable photos

Finally, we see Leibovitz's role model and mentor, the late photographer Richard Avedon, on the film. In her 2006 talk she showed slides Avedon whom she called a "genius and a great communicator."

Perhaps after the younger generation sees Leibovitz's world in this manner-that is unairbrushed, un-Photoshopped, un-Apertured and out from behind the lens- it will call her the photographic "genius" of our time, if they don't already. And she will be the woman she always wanted to be.

This documentary retails for $19.98. It would make a perfect inspirational gift for your photographer friends.