NYT Styles Profiles Annie Leibovitz's Financial Problems And Enablers

You know the Times' Styles section was eventually going to pitch in on the fiscal trials and tribulations of Annie Leibovitz. They delivered, filing a quote-happy roundup on the matter, starring Tina Brown and Graydon Carter, defending their friend.

The piece, written by Festivus chronicler Allen Salkin-the Seymour Hersh of the Times' Style section-doesn't bring any new information to the table, but it does a great job of highlighting some of the people who helped enable Leibovitz to get to the point in her life where she might have to divest herself of all fiscal interests, including the rights to her original photographs. For example, Graydon Carter - one of her standby employers - notes that she's, uh, not exactly great with money:

"The mind that can take these extraordinary pictures is not necessarily the same mind that is a perfect money manager..."

Revealing. How about former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown, defending Leibovitz's personal spending habits?

"Annie is not an expensive liver herself," said Tina Brown, who edited Vanity Fair from 1984 to 1992, where Ms. Leibovitz began working after her early years at Rolling Stone magazine. "She hangs out with her kids. She doesn't hang out in the lights at the parties."

There's more about Art Capital-who gave her a $24M loan-shopping around the rights to her work around, her relationship with Susan Sontag and speculation on Leibovitz's inheritance from Sontag (only personal artifacts, says Sontag's son), and in the end, a potential scenario of tragedy for Annie's life's work:

On July 31, Justice Emily Jane Goodman denied Art Capital's request for a preliminary injunction against the contract between Ms. Leibovitz and Getty. The judge dismissed parts of the lawsuit, but ruled that other issues would be decided later. Until now, Ms. Leibovitz has closely guarded the right to reproduce her photographs. But should she lose control of her archive, her famous portraits of Whoopi Goldberg, Jack Nicholson and the like may one day be found on postcards in Times Square.

Without being entirely sure which Times Square tourists would be buying Leibovitz postcards of Whoopi Goldberg in Times Square, one thing is certain: Salkin's softball piece misses the elephant in the room: Leibovitz was (A) surrounded by enablers and (B) represents so much of the reason publications like Vanity Fair from media conglomerates like Conde Nast are facing financial issues now. Especially telling is this:

Over the years at Vanity Fair, her shoots became more complex and expensive, often elaborate as movie shoots. "Month after month, it got a little bit more complicated with every shoot," Jane Sarkin, a Vanity Fair features editor, said in the documentary. "Her demands became bigger. Fire, rain, cars airplanes, circus animals - whatever she wanted she got."

Emphasis mine. Leibovitz's photographs - while nothing to scoff at in terms of the talent they represent - are the type of overpriced commodities (like town-cars, lunches at Michael's, or any other Glossy Expense that could've been pared back a long time ago) that are now driving the magazine business under, or at least driving companies like Conde to have to bring in Firing Specialists.

All of these companies convinced Leibovitz that her projected worth was way more than it needed to be, by paying her as such. The irony that Tina Brown is being quoted about somebody wasting money is unbelievable, as even Brown herself lamented the ridiculous expenses of her own fallen publication - Talk - two weeks ago, when mourning the death of her party planner Robert Isabell.

People like Leibovitz and their work on his covers were and still remain points of pride for Graydon Carter, almost in the same way collecting celebrities at The Waverly Inn and Monkey Bar are. Maybe that's the cautionary tale here. Not to be better with money, but to show people like Annie what their true value in New York is: as a social commodity.

Salkin chalks up Leibovitz's eventual fate to the personal finance habits that will or won't get her out of the dire straits she's in. At this point, it's probably going to have just as much to do with her respective job markets, especially one big media bosses created and are now being forced to marginalize. The real question then becomes how many Vanity Fair readers can tell the difference between an Annie Leibovitz cover and one snapped by somebody less pricey. They might have to start to learn how. Now that Conde's firing entire divisions, don't think the size of this difference escapes them.

Even if she can cut down her costs, does Annie Leibovitz have the energy to be prolific? The most telling note in Salkin's article quotes a former Vanity Fair photo archive director, Charlie Scheips, who recently spoke with her. She sounded frantic: "I'm really under the gun. I've got three daughters, I lost my spouse. I've got too many jobs to do and it's chaos."

For Annie Leibovitz, a Fuzzy Financial Picture [NYT]