Annie Leibovitz Takes on The Queen

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Annie Leibovitz has released a new portrait of the Queen of England ahead of the monarch’s six-day trip to the United States. Leibovitz said she wanted to make a very traditional portrait. Critics are divided.

British critic William Feaver said, “I think on these occasions tradition is good. You do not want to see Her Majesty breakdancing or bathing in a vat of asses’ milk. [The portrait is] a post-Oscar type production. It is the stand-in for Dame Helen Mirren in her own location being rather commanding but not really at ease with this army of American photographers glamming her up for Vanity Fair.”

Washington Post critic Henry Allen said: “It looks like something you might see in a catalogue offering the Queen herself for sale. The Queen’s face has an utterly public quality that approaches, to me, dead, with all the personality of a marble bust of George Washington. I wonder if there isn’t a line of people having to wait to have their picture taken in the same chair, the same costume, perhaps one of those little cut-outs you stick your head through.”

The Daily Mirror tabloid called it “Queen’s Mirren Image”.

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  1. Gary Ballis says

    It is an excellent portrait. Her Majesty is isolated by class, cash, and tradition from damned near everybody outside that window towards–but not through–which she wistfully gazes.

  2. says

    The monarchy died the day Princess Diana died. She represented their chance for modernity, and now I can’t look at any of them without feeling like they failed her.

  3. Leland says

    Another trite photo despite being produced on a budget that could feed a third-world country for a year by a grotesquely overrated shutter bug and widow to a grotesquely overrated typist who died essentially still in the closet.

  4. Steve says

    Oh I get it now. All of Leland’s comments are negative, personal attacks against the people involved in the corresponding post.

    That’s his gimmick. Being negative. Fun.

  5. James C says

    I really wish people would get over this insistence on remembering Diana as this perfect girl-next-door who was snapped up by the evil prince and locked in a tower. She grew up as a member of the aristocracy for pete’s sake, her father was an earl. She played with Princes Andrew and Edward when they were children. She knew what this family was about, what she was getting into, and what was expected of her. It’s not like these expectations were created solely for her. When you marry into any royal or political family, you’re also getting hired to do a job. Part of any job is not upstaging the boss on a regular basis and sharing on the job secrets with the rest of the world. In that regard she failed them as much as they can be accused of failing her.

  6. Pugzz says

    Queen? Of what? She has nothing left but celebrity and money. Nothing outside but grey skies and empty trees. The monarchy is dead. She is nothing more now than an icon. A statue.

    I think Annie got it right.

  7. starquisha says

    I’m sorry Leland,
    please don’t take this the wrong way- but
    the photographer herself is an OUT lesbian, right? so it is worth noting that in some way this speaks to gay and lesbian acceptance and the potential for it…yet her achievement is grotesque to you. in the next sentence you seem to cast a soul shaking gaze of repugnance for someone’s life work because they were not OUT. what is up w/ you,

  8. says

    I have a problem with that logic James C. If we were to never question authority and tradition, then how would we bring change then? journalists would just follow he line of the corporate owner..and dissidents would keep quiet about the government..and on and on..

    Diana obviously loved the monarchy and did her job proud, but she saw things that she felt needed changing. I don’t see why she should have felt protective of the monarchy’s “secrets” if they weren’t always in the best interests of the people.

  9. Leland says

    Ms. Steve: you haven’t a clue, but bash away. It’s free.

    Starquisha: my low opinion for much of Sontag’s work has nothing to do with her relative closetry. As for the latter, as well as how accurate it is or is not to characterize Leibowitz as “out” in all caps, you and anyone else interested in the facts might see the article below, too long to reproduce here, which speaks not just to the curious behavior of this couple but the complicity of the media in keeping closet doors firmly shut.

  10. Greg says

    I think the portrait looks like one that Gregory Crewdson might have produced, with its rather surreal lighting and staging. I agree that the Queen looks more like a statue in it – but a statue of her mother. It’s certainly the most memorable royal portrait I can remember. And a bit creepy – Her Madge is a good sport to let stuff like this go out there.

  11. Brian says

    She appears detatched and lonely, all dressed up with no place to go… is she kidding us with that white fur stole? She’s clearly sequestered from the world and yet expected to reflect the world’s values (which she might share, if she only knew what exactly those values were). A regal yet grandmotherly anachronism, who has spend her long life playing a public role for which she is at once celebrated and resented by those to whom she feels a sense of obligation and duty that has clearly become a throwback to a distant and archaic past. The lighting makes it seem like one of those overcast spring days, during which a lonely child might absently lie on a sofa watching the dust particles float through the sun streaming through the window, wishing he were outside doing something else but not knowing what it is he would do if he had the choice. There’s a quiet, tense, constricted quality to this image that is hard to pinpoint.

    Art is art, and it means whatever you want it to mean. I like the portrait, even if it isn’t exactly how I would have chosen to portray the queen.

  12. James C says

    First, DA, she was not a political prisoner or freedom fighter. So please don’t make her out to be one. The public in Britain have known quite a lot about the royal dirty laundry going back centuries. Yet they choose to keep their system. The Windsors are not dictators who are torturing and kidnapping their fellow citizens. Their form of democracy is just as valid as ours, is more widespread and is arguably fairer in many ways.

    My point is not that she should not have questioned anything. It was about the manner in which she chose to do so. Before all the fuss about her marriage, she chose to be, for lack of a better term, a camera hog. So knew the press loved her and took advantage of it. When some complained about her tactic, she allowed herself to be portrayed as an innocent victim, particularly in the States, because it served her well and created support. We Americans ate it up because while we are fascinated with royalty as a curiosity, we inherently don’t trust it.

    Knowing the fairy tale was not true fed that distrust and she knew it. However, she was having numerous affairs at the same time as Charles.

    What the press here never reports is that for all Diana’s splashy charity work, the other members of the family had been doing similar and often more significant work, in most cases for their entire lives. The Queen sponsors hundreds of charities, but she does it much more quietly. That’s what the conflict was initially about.

  13. peterparker says


    I normally agree with you wholeheartedly, but I have to disagree with your assessment of Annie Liebovitz as not-exactly-out. I’ve always thought Annie Liebovitz was a lesbian. I didn’t expect her to make any announcements of her sexual orientation because, well, I’ve never seen any well-known artists discuss his/her sexual orientation.

    Liebovitz did release a book in October 2006 that included pictures of her family…and it was pretty clear Sontag was her lover given that there were photographs of Sontag naked in bed (if I recall correctly).

    I do wonder if she did not discuss her relationship with Sontag out of respect for Sontag’s wish to remain closeted? If so, that doesn’t mean Liebovitz was closeted…just that she didn’t discuss her relationship. There is a difference.

    I also disagree that Liebovitz is overrated. I think she is a fantastic photographer who has created iconic images (such as the image of a naked John Lennon curled around Yoko Ono).

    As for the photograph of the queen…I think it’s lovely, though I would’ve much prefered seeing her bathing in a vat of asses’ milk.


  14. thin mint says

    It’s a beautiful picture, and it would be absurd to do a portrait of the queen without acknowledging how she is defined by the trappings of tradition.

    And despite the famous milk-bath photo, Leibovitz is often pretty traditional in her compositions, so it’s not like she’s “selling out” or something.

  15. John C says

    Susan Sontag “a grotesquely overrated typist”?

    Hmm, okay Leland, sure you couldn’t dig the knife in a bit deeper there? Honestly, some of the comments on this otherwise excellent blog are astoundingly vituperative. It’s like buying a favourite magazine and being forced to take home a pack of snarling dogs with it.

    This is quite a decent royal portrait compared to the usual standard. Most photographers tend to play safe with the royals but she’s gone for an effective play of light which looks surprising given the subject.

  16. Michael D says

    Lovely, elegant portrait, but why does anyone care about the Queen or her family? I have no idea why the British people insist on keeping this cash draining anachronism on their payroll. Great Britain has a government that runs itself beautifully (well, that might be debatable) without her help. Here in Canada, we have been talking about ending our allegiance to the monarchy, which barely exists for all intents and purposes. Liz may be a nice lady, but I believe it is time she and the Windsors found real jobs.

  17. Bill says

    Great shot of Liz. I know she’s thinking of how much to bet on the ponies at the Derby, the real reason she is coming to the colonies, I do say.

  18. Steve says

    Michael D-
    Here in the UK the monarchy is greater then its parts. It is a living representation of the values of tradition and history which are respected and admired. Most people here are proud of our British heritage and standing in the world, and the monarchy are part and parcel of that. Furthermore, their is value that the current monarchy make to trade relations which will be part and parcel of the upcoming tour of the queen. Regardless, the royal family provides us Brits with an institution that offers a connection to our past, and in Elizabeth a voice of reassurance and civility.

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