Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Annie Leibovitz Turned Down $5 Million North Korea Photo Shoot

Famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz, whose recent financial troubles have been publicly documented in the media, turned down a lucrative offer to shoot President Bill Clinton's successful visit to North Korea to obtain amnesty for American reporters Euna Lee and Laura Ling.

Although the White House and Clinton's office made clear that the former president was going strictly as a private citizen for humanitarian reasons, Clinton's visit was considered a big coup by North Korean President Kim Jong-Il.

A photo of a staid looking Clnton seated next to Kim surrounded by members of his delegation was quickly distributed around the world. That picture is a far cry from the artistic shots that the North Koreans had proposed to Leibovitz, the acclaimed Vanity Fair photographer responsible for some of the most iconic shots of recent decades.

Perhaps her most famous was a 1981 cover for Rolling Stones magazine of Yoko Ono being kissed by a naked John Lennon. The picture was shot mere hours before his death. She also made waves a decade later with a pregnant, naked Demi Moore Vanity Fair cover, and most recently last year with a shot of teenage sensation Miley Cyrus, who appeared to be naked save for a bedsheet.

The $5 million in cash purportedly offered would have come at precarious financial time for Liebovitz, who is being sued by Art Capital Group. The company lent her $24 million last year and Leibovitz had pledged her properties as well as negatives and rights to her photographs as collateral.

Among the scenes proposed were Kim and Clinton surveying, from the palace balcony, thousands of North Korean soldiers marching in quickstep below. Another was Kim and Clinton -- both golf aficionados -- on the golf course, with Clinton serving as Kim's golf caddy. They had also suggested a shot of Clinton and Kim enjoying Korean barbecue, surrounded by a dizzying display of panchan (little dishes filled with kimchee and other eye-wateringly spicy foodstuffs).

The North Koreans are first class when it comes to propaganda, said a State Department official, but that's with their own people. In their mind, the "Leibovitz treatment" would have upped Kim's glamour quotient with the rest of the world, where they don't have the advantage of controlling all the newspapers and television stations.

When Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes wanted to introduce Suri Cruise to the world they gave Leibovitz exclusive access, letting her shoot at his Telluride, Colorado home. That came after months of less-than-kind tabloid rumors about Suri, which the photos of the black haired baby mostly dispelled. Clinton's visit to North Korea could similarly have served as Kim's coming out party.

Still, even though Leibovitz has shot foreign leaders -- including Queen Elizabeth II -- she was not interested in shooting Kim, even for $5 million, citing a policy against photographing meglomaniacs.

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