Annie Leibovitz’s At Work is partly a guide for aspiring photographers, though lots of her advice won’t be much use to the amateur. (If you must manage a photo shoot at the White House, do try to avoid the Oval Office; the light from the windows are a headache.) And while the book is personal, it’s not quite a memoir; her longtime partner, Susan Sontag, is mentioned only briefly, and she recalls the psychodrama of touring with the Rolling Stones without mentioning the cocaine habit, since beaten, she picked up along the way. Mostly, At Work is an act of self-defense: one of the world’s best-known photographers arguing that she’s uncompromised despite taking on so many high-profile commercial and celebrity gigs. Yet it’s hard even for Leibovitz to celebrate her portraits for American Express and Vanity Fair as high art; she’s mindful of the aesthetic limitations of such work, but she ignores the question of what makes it art or journalism in favor of rattling off details about scheduling and lighting. She’s more convincing when it comes to her lesser-known work, even the corporate stuff. Her comments on the nudes she shot for a limited-edition calendar distributed by Italian tire company Pirelli reveal an urge to experiment matched to an adoration of heroes like Alfred Stieglitz—and the ghostly bodies she comes up with underscore her talents. The same goes for her photojournalism in Rwanda and Sarajevo; she captured little actual bloodshed but much of the aftermath of violence there, and her stark images bear out her point that “a lot can be told in those moments in between the main moments.”
LEIBOVITZ DISCUSSES AND SIGNS COPIES OF HER WORK ON MONDAY, DEC. 8, AT 8 P.M. AT THE CORCORAN GALLERY OF ART, 500 17TH ST. NW. $28. (202) 639-1700. ALSO, TUESDAY, DEC. 9, AT 7 P.M. AT THE SIXTH AND I HISTORIC SYNAGOGUE, 600 I ST. NW. SOLD OUT. (202) 364-1919.