In high school I was obsessed with Rolling Stone Magazine and it’s chief photographer Annie Leibovitz. I devoured every issue, but especially the cover stories Annie was doing. There was something about the mix of truthfulness and invention I loved. Annie's pictures grew out of connecting with the subjects. I liked that idea. I also just loved the pictures. Annie edited a book of music photographers called “Shooting Stars” which was published in 1972. I devoured that book. I looked at it until the binding gave up and the pages laid loose between the covers. Photographers I idolized - Norman Seeff, Jim Marshall, Ethan Russell, Elliot Landy, Michael Cooper and of course Annie. I thought I wanted to be one of those photographers. At least I wanted to be a photographer and I loved music. I could not imagine creating images on that playing field but I needed to see it first hand. I was not wanting to be Annie. I was wanting to be me, but I didn’t know what that meant.
I moved to NY from RISD wanting to work with my heroes. A classmate from RISD was working as Annie’s first assistant. I got the hook up and started working as Annie’s third assistant. I tried to be invisible, working in the shadows doing everything anyone told me to do. Trying my best to be helpful.
Assisting I got to be in the same room as Annie. I didn’t know anything. I had never loaded a Hasselblad film back, so I took one of her film backs home and loaded it hundreds of times until I had it down. I learned her lighting - Dynalites with a big diffusion box. I needed to learn how a flash meter worked.
Annie’s studio was a dream box for me. Not at all what I had imagined. It was a large open room. A mess. No print boxes. No organization. A room piled with prints and proof sheets and polaroids that Annie would spread all over the studio at night. In the morning I would sweep all the prints back into the door and pull the door shut. There was a room the equipment lived in. A bathroom. There was a big white cyke wall. A desk with a light table built in. There was music. This was the cassette era...so maybe there was some vinyl around still. There were a couple of flats on wheels. Mostly there was Annie. Exploding with ideas. Exploding with frustration. Exploding with the passion that drove her work. She and the first assistant had a relationship that was fraught. I knew my turn in that position was not far away. I made a plan from the shadows.
When Annie finally fired the guys above me, I told her this, “I will be the best assistant you will ever have. I will be available 24/7. I will be totally present all the time. I only have one condition. If you ever yell at me I am walking out the door.”
My first trip as her main assistant was to San Francisco, Annie’s old stomping grounds, where Rolling Stone was based when she first started working for Jann Wenner. I was sitting in a first class window seat next to ANNIE LEIBOVITZ! Annie had a walkman and was listening to the Rolling Stone’s, “Exile On Main Street.” Just sitting there. This was pre-smart phones. Pre-computers. We had stacks of magazines and photo books. It was all too much.
I spent a year traveling with Annie. Many of the stories will be coming out soon