Dealing with people

I’ve been reading this biography of Susan Sontag, by Benjamin Moser. Susan Sontag was an American intellectual and critic, who was very famous in the 1960s and 1970s.

Towards the end of her life, Sontag’s partner was the photographer Annie Leibovitz. She made her name taking photographs of rock stars and other celebrities for magazines like Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair.


Leibovtiz was notorious for pushing hard to get what she wanted from people in order to take great photographs.

Annie Leibovitz’s portrait of the Queen

Moser quotes another Rolling Stone photographer Max Aguilera-Hellweg. He’s talking about how Leibovitz worked as a photographer, but I think some of what he’s saying is true of how all journalists have to operate.

Annie knew from the beginning the photographer’s psychology of dealing with people. You are controlling your subject from the minute you call them. Everything you say is a constant evolving equation, to get more time with them, to get more intimacy, to get them to open up more — and to stay dominant. To get them on film. For them to reveal themselves. Sometimes it’s exposing yourself, becoming more intimate yourself. Sometimes it’s saying the wrong thing on purpose to get them to challenge you. But if you don’t do if from the very first second, you’ve lost.

Sontag: Her Life

What do you think about this quote?

Peter Hujar