Annie Leibovitz is one of today’s most famous photographers. You may have seen her name in the news recently for her financial problems rather than for her art. Although reports of her annual income included numbers north of $3,000,000, she was saddled with multi-million-dollar debt and exposed to legal problems. The photographer is mainly known for controversial celebrity images, and a recent notable issue was the topless photograph of fifteen-year-old Miley Cyrus used for the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.
Even as a top photographer, Annie has not had much success selling her artwork. It’s not that her work is too controversial; much is tame, though celebrities are often the subjects. She has not been able to break into the profitable arm of the art industry. The most a buyer has paid for one of her images is £31,200 in 2005. While that sounds like it could be a nice profit, particularly from the point of view of a casual photographer whose total expense in the industry is less than $10,000. Annie’s tendencies as a perfectionist and a spender guarantee a loss unless the work can be sold for much more.
Compare this with Richard Avedon, a photographer who also focused on celebrities and successfully bridged the gap between commercial and artistic photographer. Avedon’s works will be auctioned later this month, and are expected to fetch as much as $850,000.
What constitutes successful art? Whatever buyers — those with the money — determine at any particular time. Annie Leibovitz’s art isn’t successful right now. Maybe it will be in the future, but for now, her success lies only in the commercial domain.
More at Financial Times.