Art student interns with photographer Annie Leibovitz


[img_inline align=”right” src=”” caption=”Ruth Silver”]Increasing numbers of humanities students are gaining interesting
experience outside the classroom, while getting credit towards
their degrees by taking applied humanities courses.

Recent courses have seen students working on editorial projects,
interactive Web pages and the development of a film series. But
the project that makes everyone prick up their ears, is that of art student Ruth Silver, who spent three months this summer as an
intern in the New York studio of photographer Annie Leibovitz.

The chance to gain an insider's view of the glamorous world of Annie and
her celebrity models (Bono, Bjvrk, Faith Hill, Keith
Richards, and Kate Hudson all posed for snaps during Ruth's stint at the
studio) was an amazing experience, and not one that will
soon be forgotten. However, like many of life's worthwhile experiences, it
wasn't all plain sailing. The internship brought with it,
“a confusion of frustrations, tension, shocks and even the occasional
inspiration,” Silver says. “It challenged all my beliefs about
art and artists.”

Working for three months as a “bottom-feeder in the upper echelon of what
we call the art world” alongside Leibovitz's four
permanent photographic assistants, gave Silver insight into the hard work
behind the shots which grace the covers of Vogue and
Vanity Fair, as well as the walls of galleries around the world.

Preparations for each picture are meticulous. An entire day might be spent
photographing a stand-in to ensure the correct lighting
levels for one shot; an old-style speakeasy might be totally recreated on
location for another.

As an intern, Silver's role in all this was to do, well, whatever needed
doing: assisting the assistants on shoots; packing and
unpacking equipment; watering the plants; working on the studio archives;
guarding the equipment van on location in some of
New York's tougher neighbourhoods; and, once, being sent off with $500 to
buy CDs, so Keith Richards could listen to suitable
music while having his picture taken. (Blues and jazz were in, the studio
was warned, rap was definitely out!)

Silver found that the production of an Annie Leibovitz photograph involved
far more than the work of one individual.

Stylists, producers, set designers, make-up artists, hair stylists,
wardrobe consultants and photographic consultants all play their

As does Leibovitz's art director, whose role enhancing Annie's photographs
on the computer (often making a composite of many
photos to create one “perfect” shot) is one of the most controversial in
Silver's opinion.

“Of course, I was aware that most images used in magazines were heavily
airbrushed and were only approximations of reality.
However, I had imagined that commercial photographers and artistic
photographers existed in different universes. How wrong I was!
At the Annie Leibovitz studio, all lines are blurred and parallel universes
co-exist comfortably in a tiny world of many of the most
successful contemporary artists (sculptors, painters, filmmakers, Marcel
Duchamps and Andy Warhols included) of our time.”

Life after Annie? This term Ruth Silver traded New York for North
Yorkshire, heading off to Leeds University, where she is
currently studying on exchange.

Not quite as glamorous as New York perhaps, but with Henry Moore, Barbara
Hepworth and David Hockney all heralding from
the area, not a bad place for an art student to be.

Photo: Ron Scheffler