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Leibovitz exhibit showcases 15 years of photos

WASHINGTON — Three official portraits of Queen Elizabeth II will be displayed alongside Annie Leibovitz's signature celebrity photography in a 15-year retrospective exhibition of her work at the Corcoran Gallery of Art through Jan. 13.

The Corcoran is the third of seven stops for the show titled "Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005" and the first gallery to include the queen's portraits, which were commissioned to mark her visit to the United States in May.

The exhibit — a companion to the book of the same name — includes 200 photographs that set recognizable high-fashion magazine portraits against a backdrop of reportage photography and personal snapshots.

The breadth of the exhibit showcases the 58-year-old photographer's versatility and her ability to humanize her subjects. They demonstrate the "satirical conceptual fictions that spoof her subjects' public images and the movie glamour that has characterized much of her recent work for Vanity Fair and Vogue," said the exhibit's curator, Paul Roth.

Leibovitz said she enjoyed the Buckingham Palace photo shoot with Queen Elizabeth earlier this year despite footage that showed her receiving a stern response when she asked the queen to remove her crown for a portrait.

Leibovitz said she was "thrown" when the queen arrived wearing her crown, because another shot was scheduled first. A BBC production team captured the moment when Leibovitz began to suggest the monarch remove the crown, but was interrupted with an icy glare. "What do you think this is?" the queen asked, gesturing to her royal attire.

A sequence in the preview for the BBC documentary erroneously suggested that the queen then stormed out of the session. The BBC later apologized for the misrepresentation, saying the queen was arriving to the shoot, not departing.

"She was flustered at first," Leibovitz explained. "But people forget she's in her 80s. It's like photographing your great aunt."

Leibovitz said she loved the queen's feistiness. "I said, 'Of course, she's tired of wearing those clothes. She's in her 80s, it's hard to put them on, and the cape weighs like 75 pounds."'

The BBC documentary failed to show that the queen stayed overtime and "did her duty," Leibovitz said. She said the two continued to have a nice talk and that the shoot was "fantastic."

Leibovitz, the first American to do a commissioned portrait of the queen, said she researched previous photographs before the shoot.

"I have to say, quite honestly, I felt as if her countrymen had sort of thrown her away, like she wasn't really photographed with any kind of seriousness," Leibovitz said of her decision to create the simple, regal portraits.

"They're very poignant to me, they're very beautiful. I'm very, very happy with them."

One portrait features the queen in an opulent palace drawing room wearing a diamond tiara, light embroidered gown and fur stole as she gazes wistfully out a window overlooking dark skies; another shows the queen outdoors against a dark, theatrical backdrop of trees and a pond on the palace grounds.

The show, which includes half of the 400 photos in the book, moves chronologically and ties together milestones in the photographer's life with historical markers. A black and white photo of Bruce Willis cradling then-wife Demi Moore's tummy, pregnant with their first child, hangs alongside a photo of two "gloating fathers," as Leibovitz describes her smiling father and brother after her brother's first child was born.

Leibovitz began compiling the 15-year retrospective in 2004 during a particularly emotional time — the deaths of her father and longtime companion and famous author Susan Sontag, as well as the births of her twin daughters.

The exhibit mixes images of those sad events in Leibovitz's life with photographs of happier times, such as her travels with Sontag around the world. Leibovitz said she's proud of the work, but that it's also very personal and sometimes difficult to revisit.

"I was so in the project when I did it; it was the most important thing to me. Now as I pull myself away from it, it's harder," she said.

The exhibit also includes a photograph of President Clinton's first day in the Oval Office, President Bush and his cCabinet shortly after 9/11 — "Bush was very, very cocky" — juxtaposed with a portrait of Michael Moore's film crew.

There are plenty of entertainment luminaries on display, including Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Johnny Cash and Scarlett Johansson. Leibovitz also included work from Kosovo, and one harrowing print of bloody hand and footprints smeared against a yellow wall, representing the massacre of Tutsi children in Rwanda in 1994.

"I believe that intimacy, human connection, has long been the true subject that unites all of Leibovitz's work," said Roth, the Corcoran curator. "Annie Leibovitz connects us to the people we all have in common."