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Annie Leibovitz on the Democratization of Photography, Her Influences and Her Google Pixel Campaign

Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz, who has been photographing the world’s most influential figures for the past 49 years, revealed last week a new campaign called “Face Forward” shot exclusively on the Google Pixel smartphone. The new series done in partnership with Google features portraits of James Turrell, Megan Rapino, Chase Strangio, and others. “Face Forward” has been in the works for over a year as a project to document the stories of some of the most prominent changemakers today. “It’s an incredible opportunity for us to celebrate people in the present who are doing things to create a better future,” journalist and activist Noor Tagouri, who was photographed for the campaign, tells TIME.

Leibovitz, who helped in the development phases of the camera in the new Google Pixel, is far from new in working with high-profile figures and successfully capturing their stories, but “Face Forward” is her first series shot entirely on smartphone. The photographer says she was “suspicious” when working with an older version of the smartphone at first but felt impressed by it this time.

Here’s what Leibovitz had to say about her new campaign and what the democratization of photography means today.

How did you choose the subjects for this campaign?

Originally I thought I was just going to drive across the country and meet people, like Robert Frank. We got more realistic about time and zeroed in on people who are taking things very head-on and were important in their worlds, giving us hope in our world. I went back to some original sources, like Gloria Steinem, and asked her for lists. Some of the Native American subjects came from Gloria Steinem, and then we just did our due diligence, looking at every list of people who mattered and were doing things.

What do you hope sharing these portraits will accomplish or what feelings do you want them to spark in a viewer?

I think what we’re trying to do is recognize these people as people who are setting a tone and setting standards. I remember going out to photograph Bobbi Jean Three Legs at Standing Rock Reservation where she has worked so hard to protest the pipeline, and you get out to her land and you’re really brought to your knees when you see the beauty of this country. In that photograph, we’re standing on the edge of the Missouri River, and you realize her love for her land and her reservation.

How do you think this project fits into your work?

It fits in perfectly. I don’t get a chance to always do this kind of work. Vogue has always been politically conscious. We just did Congresswoman McBath, whose son was killed through gun violence, and I just did Nancy Pelosi for Vanity Fair. At this point in my life, I try to direct my work a little better, but I think this is really the time for this type of work.

The campaign is meant “to find a new way to document individuals making change in the world today.” Why is it important document change today?

I feel I am not unique in this respect; we all want to care and know about people who are doing the right things so we can have a sense of hope. The state of this country and our government today has brought out in every which way the most extraordinary, incredible people who care about who we are, what we’re doing, and what matters.

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