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Is Annie Leibovitz a Failure?

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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.

Published or updated November 11, 2010. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Kevin

I agree with you that art price is at the buyers whim. It’s just like any market; it’s based on what people will pay. Except Art is really, really, really finicky when it comes to price.
I’ve never been an art fan and would probably never pay more than $100 for a piece of art. But that’s just my opinion.

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avatar Evan

Interesting post, whether she is a success or a failure would have to do with her goals. If she set out to make a boat load of cash then yes, but if she set out to be an “artist” (whatever the hell that means) then maybe lol (people are talking about her but her stuff doesn’t sell in that community).

Just my 2 cents

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avatar jim

Art can be successful without making lots of money. And I think her financial problems are more due to her mishandling of money. She has such earning power I wouldn’t even say she’s necessarily a financial failure even though she’s basically bankrupt.

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avatar eric ♦1,549 (Half-Dollar)

Shows that you can make a gazillion dollars and still go broke by spending more than you earn.

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦85 (Newbie)

If she set out to make a living doing what she loves, then she’s a success — but a failure at handling her finances. Unless, of course, she trusted the wrong person(s) with her money.

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avatar Brad Castro

If she’s making $3,000,000/year she must be selling something. Of course, if she can’t live on that, she must be buying a lot of something, too. But in fairness, Richard Avedon has the lucrative advantage of being deceased.

I love Richard Avedon, both as an artist and as a person – Charlie Rose had a number of great interviews with him – http://www.charlierose.com/search/?text=richard+avedon

I remember an amusing story from his childhood – how his family would go on walks so his mother could take family pictures. And how she would borrow the neighbor’s dog to give the photos a little more all-American feel.

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avatar Jerry

I’ve always liked her photos and I liked that she pushed the envelope a bit. I like her art and I wonder if the insurance would be a bit cheaper than her photographs might be. Something to consider! I doubt her financial troubles will lead her to go into seclusion though I do hope she’s able to get out of them soon.

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