For some reason our post "The Worst Photograph Ever Made" is getting pinged around the 'Net today, and it's bringing in both a lot of viewers from hither and yon and also some new comments. Here's one of the latter I thought was particularly interesting:
I have worked on at least three images for Ms. Leibovitz since the early part of this century, all Vanity Fair covers. What I can say is that while it's an honor to work on such a prominent photographer's work, it is also your worst nightmare every time.
On shots such as this one [the Lavazza calendar shot featured in the post linked above —Ed.], you are provided usually dozens of shots for disassembled parts of the image, and in all cases I've worked on, the models are also in pieces that you have to Frankenstein together. You would think when someone presents you with this type of image, that all those pieces are executed by a master's hand, with every detail thought out and done perfectly, taking into consideration all aspects of lighting, focus, parallax issues...not at all.
I've had to turn a bunch of photos that had no sense of anything technical in to an image worthy of the brand name Leibovitz. Pieces that were supposed to fit had to be horribly distorted to match her post-shoot preproduction mockup made by a low res retoucher on her staff; many times she needed to use a tripod and did not; I also had to match images from different cameras and films together as well. Bottom line is, what is handed to the retoucher is a big pile of doo-doo handled by dozens of her staff—then have to produce images that look impeccable.
To me, her earliest photography is where her mastery shines through; she is one of the great candid portrait photographers there ever was. Her shots were usually planned from what I can tell, but there is an ease in the models that transcends the set, the props, the film itself. Now what she produces are overdone monstrosities befitting a Dolce & Gabanna ad or an Elle editorial.
I've heard stories of assistants really being the ones who control everything, setting it all up without her even in the studio, then she appears, shoots and leaves. This explains why you get a pile of mish-mashed images with very little technical ability or planning, seeming very amateurish in its execution and planning. Then she directs the show post production, but at that point it's too late—the cameras are all put away, the models went home, and you're the poor shmuck with dozens of images you need to make shine.
Signed "Anonymous Retoucher"
The more things change, the more they stay the same—when I was doing custom black-and-white printing, some big-name, high-dollar pros made me jump through similar hoops—although with much more modest expectations on an absolute scale, since so much less was possible in the wet darkroom. The commonality is that a few clients expected miracles on your end to make up for deficits on theirs! Pity the poor post-production minions, folks—get it at least close to right in camera. It's called "craft."