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Friday, 19 December 2008


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I wonder if this image is part of the Annie Leibovitz lawsuit reported in Photo District News. The suit alleges that she has not paid stylists or equipment providers $778K for their services. If this image is involved, perhaps the stylist may want to remain anonymous.


Actually, my reaction when I first glanced at the above picture was "hey, that's not bad computer CGI". So yes, it's bad.

But my vote goes to the shared first place for all the images out there in the world prominently featuring a national flag, waving - nay, soaring! - in the wind, shot upwards from a low angle. The perfect empty picture of an empty symbol. So trite that it actually sucks out any meaning from the other elements in the image, no matter how poignant, like a vampire draining its unwitting victim.

Hahaha! Utterly terrible. It's like the Waterworld of photos, except that Waterworld was entertaining in a guilty way.


I agree with you.
Here in Germany we had to tolerate this Lavazza advertisement poster in the streets - day after day!

Well, I agree it's possibly the worst picture in the calendar. But it's not "make a separate blog post just to say it sucks"-bad =)

"So, who is John Galt?"

Heh. The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our "stars"....

Mike J.

So, who is John Galt?

When I first saw the heading I thought, "Nah...". But having seen the picture I now think, "By God, he may have found it!." The only possible counter-argument I can think of is that there's so much photoshop, green-screen, and god knows what else going on that I'm not sure if it qualifies as a photograph at all. It's more like a H. Giger poster.

And this from the woman who was Susan Sontag's partner for so many years?

It's utterly refreshing and enjoyable to read a post where there is no 'tiptoeing around sensitivities'. And yes, I agree with you, horrible picture! It reminds me of the cover of a cd I had in the 90's called something like "1000 Best Gifs".
Regards, Nick

But tell us what you really think, Mike!

I'm thinking this would be markedly improved if the baby on the right had a thought bubble that said, "Lunch!"

May I take some pride in having been the one pointing these pictures to you? I find the september/october picture "spaghetti with naked woman in the tuscany landscape" even worse for its content of commomplaces.


nick! That is exactly what I was thinking! It reminds me of a bad Huggies Advertisement. And considering it is europe i was amused to see the model wearing a bra considering the freedom that is espoused over there, lets not even forget the styrofoam cup for pollution.

At least she's consistent in that calendar:

Say what's on your mind, don't sugar-coat it! :)

Anyway, I've taken way worse pictures than that.

My first thought was Romulus and Remus suckled by the she-wolf (Roman political creation mythos).
Do not know the context of the shot, but given the background of the decaying arena, I guess i got the point...
Was this for an ad? Product aimmed at 20-somethings and below, in Italy/EU? Kind of like Roman Mythos meets Beowulf look (the recent CGI movie).

Yeah, that really is horrendous!
How much is Ms.L. guilty though? - or is she just guilty of pandering to the whims of those who commission such tripe....
Nice put down Mike! :-)

Cheers, Robin

I don't know why, but the name Susan Sontag keeps popping in to my head, and I keep getting the urge to look up her definitions of the words "camp" and "kitsch".

I think the oddest/funniest choice is that the model is wearing a bra. But at least she hasn't been given the traditional rows of vulpine dugs...

Looks like Smurf poop to me.


I agree, it's, um, not good. And for all those reasons.

I wonder if Annie actually made it herself? Or of she is so heavily assisted now that she has disappeared?

Anyway, general comment: thanks for an outstanding blog, a place I can come every day and find proof somebody has a mind.

No wonder the kid at right looks disappointed!
She's wearing a bra!

Brilliant, Mike, absolutely inspired. I've always loved pieces of writing that feel so utterly heartfelt that they just tumbled out. Coupled with that photograph . . . I think I've hurt myself laughing.

Mike-OK, I'll bite...BTW: I love your Hopper-esque D700 night shot. But the issue at hand: The worst photo ever? Come on. It is no masterpiece but...there is an attempt at being creative. That alone pushes it beyond your categorization. ( Remember Italy/Europe has a different sense of advertising.) Technique is good. Open ANY magazine and there are dozens of worse examples. I am not a blind fan of her work but I have seen AND shot too much bad work to pile onto a easy target like her.
Happy Holidays,

to me it looks like satire using photographic tools.
as such, it is pretty damn good.

one of the forces behind 'art,' applied or primary, - is shock. to mix up the certainties in your head. this ugly stuff surely does that. it is not supposed to be a 'photograph.' annie went out on a limb and got away with it. good for her and sorry for the literal-minded folks who are forced to being confronted by it on billboards as they go about their business.

you are supposed to chuckle mike at the absurdities of most things.

Thank You Mike,
At this stage in the game (I'm 59), I feel the world needs some sort of 'photo czar' to maybe give us all a direction. I sometimes feel inferior to those folks who get innumerable kudo's to some mundane (although there's nothing wrong with that) post on Flickr merely because they belong to 500 groups and are female. I especially find fault with all the glitzy HDR photos which have (mostly) no composition or meaning, just like the Annie Leibovitz worst of.
Thankfully, we are free to express ourselves but at the sake of what direction?

Of course she did manage to create a ton of controversy and get people thinking about the parameters of art and good taste.

ok...wait. there is a cup of coffee!

it took me 3 minutes to see the cup? i think that makes it one of the worst advertisements ever, i wonder whether other people have the same problems...

fascinating...makes me like that image!

I think Kent nailed it. There's no way that she didn't know what she was doing when she created that image for all to see.

With so many bad photographs in circulation it is difficult to say which is the worst. This one sure is up there with very bad. She (Annie) was better when she didn't have so many Photo Shop tools (toys) to play with and actually made images in the camera.

Wouldn't Romulus and Remos have been suckling about before the Coliseum was built. What an anachronism! Seriously, if the foreground/background problem wasn't so bad I could get into it. Very provocative. Speaking of Leibovitz, PBS did a nice piece on her in one of their American Masters series. If nothing else she has had a very intersting life. ch

This is any different than Whoopi in the milk bath?. Many of her photographs have always been overproduced pieces of kitsch, (except for the very early black and white work). If that model had been someone familiar, like Kate Moss or whoever, everyone would be reading all sorts of secrets into the images. How much money do you think it took to produce this nightmare? It's time to forget about Annie and let someone else play.

I agree with Marek - that pasta shot makes me wince.

But this image is really bad too, look the perspective.

With crap like this, to me, it's not photography anymore. This isn't a photograph. It's just Photoshop masturbation.

Leads me to one of my favourite sayings:

Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

For the title of "worst photograph ever made," -- call them the Gaggies, we could have an annual awards show and become rich and famous ourselves -- you have to set up some parameters. *Of course* there may be a worst photo hidden in the bottom of a drawer somewhere, but if nobody sees it, what does it mean? So "worst photo" should apply to widely-distributed, expensively produced photos. Like the academy awards: the academy doesn't consider student films, or accidents, etc., but only work in which specialist movie makers really *tried.*

Given those conditions (pro photographer, lots of production money, wide distribution)...

Yup, I think you found it.

It has long seemed to me that Annie Leibovitz can only make interesting photographs of models and celebrities, which is ultimately rather boring. I don't think she can make interesting photographs of ordinary people, as did Richard Avedon.

I just finished "At Work", and it seems to me that Annie's work has progressed to the point where the shutter press is almost unnecessary.

However, looking at the arc of her career I have to say that, in her defense, she has had an amazing run and has earned her place in the pantheon of great photographers.

It seems though that the amount of retouching required by magazines has progressed to the point where even non photographers look at photos these days and say "Wow, that looks Photoshopped"... we can only hope that soon the magazine editors will begin to demand a less "Photoshopped" look.

The point being, the Leibovitz company is producing work made by many hands for customers that expect what they are getting. I dont blame Annie for working, or for producing what her customers want.

Are we not entertained?

my 2 cents

The pasta image is so over the top, I can't believe that the Remus and Romulus image isn't satire as well.

It's a cuppa coffee. Are you going to sell a cuppa coffee by showing some nonna bathed in sunlight as she sits with her hair in a bun in her breakfast nook savoring a cuppa coffee? This is post-post-postumism. Get with the program!

"Wouldn't Romulus and Remos have been suckling about before the Coliseum was built. What an anachronism!"

Yes, like never actually, being it is mythic :)

But the rest of the calendar series has well known images in Rome, as backgrounds, at least the ones I glanced at.

I to find the background both too busy, and too dark for my tastes. A light background would have made the main image components very bold.

But on the other hand, putting the ruin in the back may be good for another reason. Assuming the modern EU audience also has a less than stellar vicarious memory of cultural motifs, and miss the Romulus thing, the background might help ground the image for them.

Its interesting how whenever Leibovitch comes up there is no shortage of opinion on her merit. She seems to be a singularly controversial figure, or her work his at least. I think its important to remember that much of her (well known) work is less photography than it is advertising, as with her now infamous lavaza piece. I believe when she started working at Vanity Fair, perhaps sooner, she realized that she was longer simply a photogrpaher and was being paid to sell magazines, and she adapted her work accordingly. To that end, she was extremely adept. The Whoopi Goldberg in a bath of milk shot is a particluary good example. As Goldberg said herself, before the shot, she was all but anonymous, afterwards, she was instantly recognized everywhere. If you choose to judge her as a photographer, examine her work found inside the magazine, not on its cover. Likwewise, the lavaza shot should be judged as an advertisement not simply as a photograph. Speaking of Avedon, she appeared on Charlie Rose with him, which segment can be watched on you tube. ch

"I've seen a lot worse."

Such as?

Mike J.

It somehow reminds me of a poor version of a purposefully poor Terry Gilliam execution, circa late 1960's Monty Python. And now for something completely different.............

from an article on the shoot:


Unusually, they left the models almost entirely un-retouched – a bold move but one which, to Mariani, was key to the whole concept of the calendar. "We didn’t want typical, glamorous, artificial images," he says. "We wanted to convey the idea of authenticity.’


Your serious comments, which I do agree with, remind me of your great piece in which you pasted "comments" after photos taken by the great photographers which satirized uniformed mass opinions on their images.

Photography is basically subjective and we all base our love of an image on what the prevailing fashion of our time is. What we are taught is important eventually becomes important.

Check out what young, widely heralded photographers are creating and tell me, in all honesty, if their work will stand the test of time?

Lack of pretense (http://flickr.com/photos/lastleaf/3076187587/) might be the reverse of Ms. Liebowitz' style but it does not necessarily make the less artificial more superior.

Photography is subjective and everyone has an opinion, but calling this photo by Annie the worst picture ever made? Seriously? It's certainly not my favorite, I'll give you that. I've seen a lot worse. Nonetheless, Annie and others like her aren't at the top of their games by making bad photos....

Reminds me of Jeff Koons' stuff--specifically the giant ceramic figure of Michael Jackson and Bubbles.


I saw it in person at the SFMOMA back in the early 1990's. Quite impressive in a horrible sort of way....

Oh my word,

Maybe I take it all back and hate her too? (HUGE FU**IN' GRIN) The thing is I just don't pay attention to this stuff at all, so it rarely hits my radar.

It seems people take this stuff too close to the heart and feel ashamed to be a "photographer" because of things like this.

Just don't give it another thought. It just does not matter and the world and photography is not any worse because of it.

Life is too short to sweat the silly stuff.

I just don't care.

I have to think the bra is a signal of deliberate falseness. As many commenters have said it just seems too far out to be anything other than pastiche. Then again, maybe it's easy to lose perspective when you're paid because of your name. I'm sure it's depressing for a good artist to know for sure that it actually no longer matters whether or not you make good art any more...

Whilst I enjoyed very much that devastating comment - also for the pure delight of formulations - I wonder if this picture is worth that roasting: There are too many highly paid bad pictures, and in the end the bad news are good news for the publicity of the company.
But worth every word of slating are not only those art directors/campaigners/what-the-heck that always find a lower level, no - these words are in certain way also targeted at the audience (given that the agency has had reason to setup such a campagne - and I fear there is). And here that cavalcade of justified deprecatives probably fails miserably, because there are no recipients in the true sense of the word. This, for me, is the saddest truth.

(nudity alert, for those who are not allowed to watch nude photos)

And here's apparently where the idea of the calendar came from


what with the Pirelli calendar being a bit famous and a teensy bit older than Lavazza.

Note the latest calendar. Note the technique similarities. Although the Pirelli people seem to be better with Photoshop. :-)

So, Mike, what do you say about those?

While I am sure that worse photos have been taken, I am at a loss to really come up with one which qualifies. This is pretty awful, and I think I am generally more forgiving of Annie L than you.

This image (well, the whole calendar) made a stir in some photographic fora when released because of its vulgarity and horrible finish... I really despise that picture particularly and find it embarrassing. Good to see I'm not alone.

"The consequence is that this devalues your blog and makes it irrelevant."

Plus I do disservices to photography 24/7. Full service site.

Mike J.

It's a stupendously crap photo. I'm sure many people were responsible. The posters who suggest that in fact it's some high level commentary on modern photography that we are simply too jealous to perceive must be lawyers. That's some twisted logic.

"Reminds me of Jeff Koons' stuff--specifically the giant ceramic figure of Michael Jackson and Bubbles....Quite impressive in a horrible sort of way"

Thank you for posting the Koon sculpture picture. I did not know about it. Really quite "beautiful", like you say said, in a horrific sort of way.
Reminds me (in a mild way)of Rilke's line;

"For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us."

"What has she created in the way of Newman's devastating portrayal of Krupp?"

One of the treasures of "Annie Leivovitz at Work" is two small full-frame reproductions of the famous pictures of John and Yoko and of the pregnant Demi Moore. I'd rank both of those shots with the Newman Krupp portrait. Part of the "problem" with Annie L. is that she's gone from being the kind of photographer who can make those kinds of pictures to being one who needs a defense like the sympathetic one Barry gave her--that's she's just doing what she's told and just to make a living. It's sad, when it results in visual atrocities like the one under discussion here, or the Spaghetti Nude. Those could conceivably become cultural icons too, but not in a good way.

Mike J.

yea this is pretty bad


I'm actually an Annie fan, but I've always found this one (and this period of her career) pretty awful.


Dear Mike,

thank you, thank you, thank you. Nothing more to say. Peter.


About a month ago, I made a comment about the photograph you posted from the Saul Leiter collection, in which I despaired that I could not understand why you and others felt it was such a wonderful photograph.

Your reply to my comment was as follows:

You're absolutely NOT required to like anything anybody else does (or even that EVERYbody else does). Neither should you disparage it, IMHO.

Mike J."

Perhaps opinions are as whimsical as the eye of the beholder! :)

I am truly amazed at vitriol towards Annie Leibovitz and her partner Susan Sontag in the last couple of posts. Its strange that its all from guys, I wonder if the male photographic psyche won't allow a gay woman to be a commercially successful photographer?

As to the posted photo being the worst photo, well I think that should be examined in context of other Lavazza Calenders.


The above site allows you to see all the calendars back to 1993 and you know what it fits in with rest of them. So this leads me to assume that Annie had a brief and she worked to fulfil that as any commercial photographer should. I think many of the posters here don't realise that as a commercial photographer you are not there to please yourself, you have a paying client and they call the shots. Ultimately it isn't art, it's illustration. Advertising is not about reality, its about selling an illusion, its about commerce. You may not like Annie's advertising work, but obviously the client and their advertising director do and they are paying the bill.

Mike I'm not overly enamoured with your house at night covered in snow picture. Its schmaltz, it has no concept behind it, it is just a snap shot . Its not art, and has no value. To my mind it may be the worst photo ever as it serves no purpose. It is easy to make these statements isn't it, but to my mind what makes it worse is that on the internet it releases the baying hounds who scent blood and dive in to attack the victim safe in the anonymity of the cyber world they inhabit.

I'm afraid that such personal attacks on peoples work and their reputations make you look small minded and petty. The consequence is that this devalues your blog and makes it irrelevant.

They say love is blind. Susan Sontag must have surely turned a blind eye to her lovers work while criticizing the cult of celebrity.

I can't even consider the Book you've recommended because of how conflicted her work is. It would be akin to buyin a Celine Dion cd that got a good review from a decent critic. I know she sells, but god why?

You are correct sir, "perpetrating horrible crap"...that the modern art world...just like everything else going on today...lots of crap!

P.S. Controversy does NOT equal talent!

The sad thing about Annie L. is that someone so talented (as her early B&W so clearly proves), just gave way to gimmickry, pure and simple.

Back in the day she got chastised (and rightfully so) by an editor for taking 3 famous so and so's, lining them up against a wall, and just taking a "formal snapshot-" an unimaginative "solution," given an opportunity to make a monumental group portrait for the ages. She pledged never to make that mistake again. But instead of devising ways to make unique and innovative portraiture through bold or compelling compositions, she resorted to grabbing our attention by the quickest, easiest route possible- the visual gimmick. How long did it take to think of painting the Blues Brothers Blue? True, the gimmicks have, in fact, gotten prohibitively more intricate (and expensive) with time. But gimmicks they remain. What has she created in the way of Newman's devastating portrayal of Krupp- or anything with the apparent simplicity and enduring power and eloquence of practically any Avedon you choose?

I really like it, best photo Ive seen in a while, but I guess Im a bit of a fan of pretentious kitsch, not to mention having no taste.

Annie (we're on first name terms) has an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London just now. On the way to the show I saw that hideous Pasta shot, and I have seen and cringed at the other Lavazza commercials.

But that's just the crap she does for money, presumably a lot of it.

Her work at the show was outstanding. Best photographer in the world ever? No of course not. But she is very very good and a lot of the stuff at the show is her personal snaps, and some of those are simply amazing.

There was a picture of an open grave taken at the time of the death of her father which caused in me the strongest reaction I have ever had to any image ever. It caused a visceral fear that nearly made me vomit.

Just because someone is articulate, intelligent, or even likable doesn't make them an artist.

Leibovitz has always sucked. She must, however, be given credit where it is due: over the years, she has consistently proven she can be counted on to turn out work that continually redefines the notion of "crap."

Perhaps future historians will see that as her true contribution to our culture... As we drown in an ocean of shit, we need people like Leibovitz to show us that, with enough dedication (and the proper budget), we can always sink to even further depths.

Ranks right below nude Charis in a gasmask.

I've never been fan of Annie Leibovitz, I've always felt her work was vacuous. But I can't even blame her for the biggest reason I dislike her work: that so many others copy her style. It's not sour grapes, I envy her success but certainly don't hold it against her. I'm sure none of us have any idea how hard she has worked to get where she is today. But, for example, every time I browse through a copy of American Photo magazine on the newsstand it seems the entire magazine has been shot by Leibovitz. Very slick, but inevitably artificial and devoid of any emotional impact.

Perhaps Susan Sontag kept her on beam? And Sontag's death has freed her to make the pics that were always germinating in previous ones such as the Whoopy Golberg milk one?

My taste FWIW is for photographs where the art director is not the unacknowledged star. (that's you Cindy Sherman et al)

Regards - Ross

"eat or starve".

This is true for newcomers, not for Leibovitz. This reminds me to the photoshopped picture of John McCain and the following debate and the endless submission to the client's superiority and that "he" is always right. This attitude has long ranging implications (bad ones in my book) which i won't list again, because we know this blog must not be political...

Btw. the girl wears a bra, is that ridiculous, or far more, dare i say sexist?

Somebody notify Jeff Koons. He could make one of his ceramic sculptures out of this one..

It has been interesting reading all the comments re the photo & its maker. I recently purchased her "...at Work" book, which I found very interesting. She is not my "favorite" photographer (how can one have one favorite?). But i do respect her work, and find her interpretations at times interesting.

Her controversial treatment of the latest Disney Teenploitation Product a few months back (H. Montana/M. Cyrus)was disturbing to many. But perhaps it was most disturbing, in that it captured the essence of the Disney product, and its inevitable progression as the target demographic market changes, as she ages? (former Disney product B. Spears anyone?.

The majority of her work after the Rolling Stone days has been Illustration/Fashion/Advertising, and she is to my eye very good at it.

What i like about her last few decades of work, is actually, what it appears others do not like. She captures, for her clients and consumers the real social "underbelly" of our modern times.

The late Hannah Arendt said once (re America, but as the years pass, I think it more broadly applicable),

"The one lesson that America teaches all her children, is that the single most profound experience in life, can be reduced to a single purchase."

A poster above wrote: "Very slick, but inevitably artificial and devoid of any emotional impact."

Yes I agree, it reflects our societies. If anything, her crime, is her lack of sentimentality.

I think everyone is missing the point. Yes, the images are revolting, but have a look at Miss November-December: it's all a big joke, isn't it? By cropping the image to show that the Trevi Fountain is actually on a screen, Liebovitz is saying

"Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."

Actually I don't think the image is that bad. I personally don't like it because it alludes to all kinds of things that has nothing to do with coffee or Rome or Italy, but it makes its point in a strong and clear way.

When I first saw the image on huge posters around Hamburg, Germany I think that I immediately understood it. The caption read "The Italian Espresso Experience," and just about every European would be able to recognize the she-wolf and the inside of the coliseum -- two unmistakable symbols for Rome and Italy. So what the image is saying is "if you want to be cool [like Italians], drink this coffee."

The image transmits this idea perfectly. And this is what the Leibovitz got payed for. So, "mission accomplished."

YES! Finally! Artistic Honesty!

We've had blog posts and replies flying back and forth on this identical topic. This is not pushing my blog, this is just showing how the level of frustration is rising about just what is accepted as 'art' and what is just plain 'crap'.

Keep it up!

YES! Finally! Artistic Honesty!

We've had blog posts and replies flying back and forth on this identical topic. This is not pushing my blog, this is just showing how the level of frustration is rising about just what is accepted as 'art' and what is just plain 'crap'.

Keep it up!

YES! Finally! Artistic Honesty!

We've had blog posts and replies flying back and forth on this identical topic. This is not pushing my blog, this is just showing how the level of frustration is rising about just what is accepted as 'art' and what is just plain 'crap'.

Keep it up!

Brilliantly put, Mike !
This is indeed an utterly tasteless image, and as you very wisely pointed out, the sad thing is that it was probably achieved by compiling the work of some of the most skilled people in every trade involved, photographer, light assistant, hair dresser, maku up artist, retouch expert, etc.. That such addition of talent and effort should result in such a totally wretched result is thorougly saddening as it is sheer WASTE, of good time, effort and money, all of which are precious.

Wow. This is indeed the worst photo ever made. Until the next one.

R. Glaser has a good point - this would be FAVED to death on Flickr. Amazing! Inspiring! Wonderful! Gush!!!! And maybe this is the direction the zeitgeist is heading in. This year's advertising is next year's art.

"De gustibus non est disputandum" never seemed more apt.

Genius. So stupendously, incandescently bad, a lesser mind would have been incapable of it.

come on guys can't you see she's just taking the piss!

Mike... It's sarcastic!

To blame this on the people who instituted the shoot may be not correct.

Her photos for the Disney work she has done lately have the same result.

ive always thought she was a mediocre photographer that just happened to be in the right place at the right time (ie up Rolling Stone's backside)...

now that she is in her david lachapelle phase, its even worse.

there are hundreds of more talented photographers out there that do 10 times better work that are rarely ever seen because lazy art directors would rather pay her overpriced fees than try out someone new.

But who is Annie Leibovitz?

"The Worst Weblog Layout Ever Made"


Happy new year!

Wht bugs me is the whole package rather than elements .

I looks highly (and badly may I say) photoshopped and the picture is absolutely unbalanced. The composition is just wrong and yes the model looks like she woke up with a hangover.

They should have had me shoot this campaign. i probably would shoot it the same but at least it wouldn't piss anyone off as nobody knows me. my friends would be proud to have me get such a big client. specially at Annie's rates. -yeeehaw! the only thing i would change is the expression on her face as they have that one already. -soooo easy to do face transplants these days... Mike i do have to aggree that there is too much relying on post production of image/s. too much photomontaging [sp?]. whatever happened to the integrity of THE shot? the highest ticketed commercial shooters are art directed to shoot seperate elements. not as challenging perhaps but i guess that's 'show biz'. i hope you're having a terrific holiday season folks. mike keep these comments coming. i love it when folks stir it up, backed with good solid intelectually ballsey veiws.

I agree the image is a complete horror. But I imagine Ms. L didn't have anything to do with it, other than use her name to extract the fee.

She's got so many digital artists/assistants (some obviously not vetted properly or hired for charity) that it could be assumed she threw out the concept on a deadline and told them to handle it.

I take the photograph as ironic. The fake-ness of the image seems intentional. One child is looking at the breasts, another looking at the coffee. It's hard to imagine how to make the image more ridiculous without losing all subtlety. And yes, the image has subtlety -- if you view it as ironic.

Whether the photograph is intentionally ironic or not, it has something to say about advertising and contemporary culture. Maybe it's not completely successful. But no, it's not the worst photograph ever made.

Annie takes a picture that I’m not particularly fond of = “let talk about her relationships.” I’ve been in a few art critiques myself and I don’t remember my peers taking this angle (at least not out loud). I admit at first glance I wasn’t awed (awwww) because for one I didn’t know the reference, that is until Jay Moynihan pointed it out the 13th century Roman figure ‘She-Wolf with Romulus and Remus,' and that it wasn’t ‘pretty.’ But after reading Mike’s critique of Liebovitz’s photo and a reader comments I felt compelled to defend her. (Oh and on a side note from Mike’s post on “Two Good Ones” the line …” Ms. L. turns out to be thoughtful and articulate” screams Biiiiiden gaffe.)

So I didn’t know what the reference was and after a quick Google search I found this tidbit about Rom and Rem.

“… Romulus and Remus were kept safe by the river deity Tiberinus, who made the cradle catch in the roots of a fig tree growing in the Velabrum swamp, which therefore, has a high symbolic significance. He then brought the infant twins up onto the Palatine Hill. There, they were nursed by a wolf, Lupa in Latin. Lupa is a name for the priestesses of a fox goddess, leading to an alternative theory that the wolf was human. There is speculation that the nurturers were harlots (she-wolf being a name for them in ancient Rome) They were nurtured underneath a fig tree and were fed by a woodpecker. Both animals were sacred to Mars….”

And then something about Rom and Rem being the traditional founders of Rome. AHA! She-Wolves drink our coffee and in essence attributed to the nurturing of Rom and Rem hence there’s no telling what you can do yourself if you drink our coffee in pure form. It’s advertising folks.

So it wasn’t pretty. If I were doing this assignment I would have glamorized it using Naomi Campbell, 2 Gerber babies, Azzedine Alaia clothes, Joe McKenna as the stylist, Guido Palau for hair, Pat McGrath for make-up (all fashion people), soft dramatic lighting, and photographed it in the actual Roman Coliseum. Like Herb Ritts’ ‘Naomi Seated, 1991.’ But I’m not doing this assignment and if you go back to the reference it is of a gritty circumstance. Honestly, how glamorous is it to be sucking on wolves’ breast? Furthermore I think the rendering reinforces the reality of city rat race living which may have been a subversive message by Liebovitz. She made a choice for gritty.

Did I learn something new? Check. Next time will I go beyond the surface and delve deeper for some insight? Probably maybe, but for Annie, yes.


Barry, Annie Liebowitz is NOT a "hired gun", and you can be certain she doesnt just show up with her equipment and take directions from the client. She is specifically the kind of superstar photographer who is hired for her name and talents and EXPECTED to bring her own vision and control to the shoot. If anything, the AD's and other creatives from the client side would probably be in danger of a severe talking-to, or worse, if they started dictating to Ms Liebowitz how to shoot. She can pick and choose her projects at this point; she's not taking some coffee ad shoot just to pay the rent, and you can be certain she had full creative control, with the possible exception of the models etc.

I tend to disagree:

I think you have to ask, what was Leibovitz trying to accomplish?

Was the "picture" meant to be pleasant to look at? Was it meant to win technical awards? No.

It was an advertisement. And you (and many others) posted that *advertisement* at the top of your blog (and others in their magazine criticisms etc)

As advertisements go, that's a phenomenal, screaming success....

is that a cup of coffee in her hand? this picture will never be hanging on the wall behind anyones couch.

"One thing there has unfortunately never been a shortage of is bad photographs..."

Unfortunately, there has never been a shortage of bad prose ... nor unwitting hyperbole. Good Lord, man!

This is the message of the ad:

The World Is In Ruins

Coffe is Like Mother's Milk

Hero's Drink It

Any attempt to yap about this ad longer than that is just self important blathering. Ads are simple and meant to convey a point that sells. I am not particularly for ads but we live in a capitalist world in which they exist, and they are far more subconsciously effective than even the most self-important art student will usually admit.


Time to strip her of her crown. I wouldn't want my name associated with that work, no matter what the fee. Maybe it's time to see her as a commercial photographer who just happened to get a few right, but for whom the dollar trumps content?
It's a dreadful picture, and please, Jeffery MacMillen "Remember Italy/Europe has a different sense of advertising", I'm European and I think almost everyone I know would describe this photo as shite, including my Italian friends. Your work, on the other hand, is good!

You needed 333 words to say: "I don't like the picture". That's probably "The Worst Critique Ever Made". ;-)

BTW: given the context of Romolus and Remus, I consider the image to be a great image (though not perfect --> bra).

As MJ noted above, from the earliest versions of the story of Romulus and Remus (Livy and Plutarch, in particular), two versions have always been presented - that they were suckled by a she-wolf, and that they were suckled by a prostitute (the word lupa is used in Latin for both she-wolf and prostitute). I would say that this image is a rather clever play on the confluence of the two. Whether it is truly terrible in its many other aspects is not for me to judge; it does seem like it could be put together better, and the coffee cup is pretty awful.

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