New York Magazine‘s Andrew Goldman has a long story on Annie Leibovitz’s career and money management troubles. Aside from portraying her as a distracted, obsessive perfectionist, he also shows that the photographer remained decidedly conflicted about using her photographs to earn additional cash. At the prompting of Susan Sontag, she left James Danziger as her gallery and spent a decade with Edwynn Houk. Goldman says that was because Houk handled the estates of legendary photographers and Sontag had artistic ambitions for Leibovitz. Leibovitz, however, had trouble following through. And worse was to come with Phillips de Pury:
Neither did Leibovitz behave as if the money to be earned in the fine-art market was worth the effort. Edwynn Houk, her gallerist until last year, had no trouble selling her images. Leibovitz, however, could never get around to signing the prints. A buyer might have paid in full but still not get his picture for two years. “Nothing seems easier to me,” Houk says of the stack of photos perpetually collecting dust in her studio. “It’s a mystery why it took so long.” It was a complaint Houk was unable to register with Leibovitz directly because of her habit of postponing their scheduled calls. “Our record was sixteen months,” he says with a sigh.[…]
In June 2007, Leibovitz arranged a meeting with Edwynn Houk and announced she wanted him to start selling her prints aggressively. Houk had been selling her portraits of musicians like Iggy Pop and Johnny Cash for between $4,500 and $5,500 each, but Leibovitz needed to make much more than those prices could generate. Together they decided to create a Master Set—200 of her most iconic images, printed in a massive 40-inch-by-60-inch format, limited to only seven prints each, and sold at $25,000 per print. The total value of the set would come to $35 million. […]
About a year later, after premiering the first Master Set prints at Paris Photo, Houk got a call from one of Leibovitz’s assistants informing him that, after a decade of working together, she was dropping him as her gallerist. In mid-September 2008, the auction house Phillips de Pury & Company proudly announced that it now represented Leibovitz, and its first order of business would be to premiere 24 images of the Master Set in its London gallery on October 23. The price of each print was now set at $33,000. When Leibovitz signed on with Phillips de Pury, Phillips management was unaware of a critical fact—one that it first learned about from a February 24 front-page story in the New York Times.
How Could This Happen to Annie Leibovitz? (New York Magazine)