Let’s be honest. The Annie Leibovitz story has stalled out leaving reporters precious little information to move the ball forward. That hasn’t stopped them from filing, though. Which is why we have this Bloomberg recap that tries to locate the source of Leibovitz’s debt in the over-runs on her West Village renovations. However, the story merely recaps what is already known and provides little evidence that the townhouses ran up such a huge unpaid bill:
Between 1999 (when she also bought property in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood) and 2008, Leibovitz borrowed and refinanced more than a dozen loans, with her real-estate assets as collateral, documents filed with the city’s finance department show.
Bloomberg tries to suggest Leibovitz went off the reservation with her renovations by quoting figures for high-end work at $450 to $1200 per square foot on the 9,000 sq ft. Leibovitz project. That could theoretically boost the overall tab on the townhouses to somewhere in the $15 million range:
The $6 million Leibovitz spent overall for the three red- brick, vine-covered houses, located across the street from the popular gastro-pub, the Spotted Pig, was only the start of her mounting costs. Exterior and interior work included a new roof, raising and propping up walls, fixing the facade, installing new doors and windows and making alterations to the garden, according to permits filed with the Department of Buildings and the landmarks commission.
Another theory on Leibovitz’s finances is that her Newhouse loan was called in because of the magazine giant’s gloomy prospects in the recession. Gawker’s John Cook has been pursuing that angle but diligent research has produced no luck:
It looked like the company might have called in the debt as a way to shore up it’s ever-weakening balance sheet, so we kept browsing through New York’s property records to see if any other magazine all-stars were in a similar position. We haven’t come across evidence of other loans being taken off Condé Nast’s books,
Finally, our own theory that the Leibovitz loan debacle is a sign of the distintegrating photography market–update:a photo dealer asks that we clarify the difference between the market for images in the press (the “disintegrating” market mentioned above) and the market for photographs from dealers which is not disintegrating, more on that later–got another tangential piece of evidence in this New York Times story on the bankruptcy at photo agency, Gamma:
In the latest sign of distress, the company that owns the photo agency Gamma sought protection from creditors on July 28 after a loss of €3 million, or $4.2 million, in the first half of the year as sales fell by nearly a third.
Gamma was founded in 1966 by the photographers Raymond Depardon and Gilles Caron. With Sygma, Sipa and, earlier, Magnum, it was one of the independent agencies that helped make Paris a world capital for photojournalism, attracting some of the best photographers the field has produced.
The Leibovitz case has two main issues. One is gossip: How did Leibovitz get into such a hole? The other is a serious market question: have ACG and Leibovitz found themselves at loggerheads because neither was able to realize anywhere near the estimated value from Leibovitz’s corpus of work?
In other words, what’s Leibovitz’s archive worth in today’s photo market?
Lament for a Dying Field: Photojournalism (New York Times)