Photographer Kristy Leibowitz boldly trains her eye on artists and models, capturing their essence and character in ways that surprise, shock and charm. Wonderland talks to her about her tabloid and Daily Mail roots, and how a Busta Rhymes music video kickstarted her photography career.
First off, tell us how you went from photojournalist to photographer and artist.
I kind of fell into the journalism when I had an internship at a music video production company while I attended Parsons School of Design. I was on set for the Busta Rhymes music video and a shooting broke out where the bodyguard was shot and killed. I had photos from the set which I sold to the NY Post and then to the NY Daily News. This is when is all started and I ended up working for all the NY newspapers shooting spot news and features. Later I transferred to the Daily Mail Online, and then to Bloomberg.
Then in 2006, The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black gave a conceptual concert, entitled Sound of Magic. I photographed [lead singer] Kembra Pfahler’s performance and sent them to Jeffrey Deitch. He loved them and hired me to shoot all the events at the gallery. He made many coffee table books with my photos and even included my work and collaborations with artists like Francine Spiegel in their solo shows at Art Basel and the Armory Show. I loved being able to shoot all these fields and switch it up.
Can photojournalism be art and can artistic photography be journalism?
Of course. Art can be anything, any medium, any genres. A great image can very well be artistic and a form of documenting what is happening. I capture what is happening at an event as honestly as I would capture a news story. Some of the most amazing journalistic photos are some of the most incredibly artistic ones. The photographer Richard Mosse, who is definitely one of my favorite journalists, does this very well, in his new work entitled “Infra.”
What characterizes the photography of Kristy Leibowitz?
I think my work has a distinct look to it. Everything is edgy and artsy, saturated and full of energy. It’s very energetic and moody as well.
Your artist portraits really bring each artist’s character to life, like your photo of Terence Koh and his cat [above]. Do you engage in the their work or with the individual?
I definitely try to feel my subjects out. I vibe off the person and get a sense for what they are comfortable with. I try to work the situation if I need them to do something and yes I would even suggest a pose or act. Usually all the artists I photograph are up for anything and that’s another reason why I love shooting them.
Your work with fetish artist Kembra is quite well known. How did you link up and how was the experience of working together?
I actually never heard of her before and I had gotten a call to work with an interesting artist and help her get ready for her show Sound of Magic at Deitch Projects. The first time I worked with her, I was helping her with
production. There’s a lot of work to do to get ready for her performances. She has a whole team of people, and a lot of work to put it all together. I was making her props and organizing her materials. Then I saw her performance, I was so shocked and I loved it, and she loved my photos. From then on we starting working together, creating photo shoots and covering everything she did for years, even getting to travel with her.
Are there any other mediums you would like to try as an artist?
I am actually super crafty and love arts and crafts, sculpture and building stuff! I made some art furniture and had a show at 151 Gallery in Soho in 2009. I haven’t made any new work recently but I know that is
something that I will always do naturally.
What would be a dream shoot for you?
My dream shoot would be working with a major company creating an image that would be seen everywhere.
What’s your favorite piece of art?
That’s like asking if I have a favorite song and I just don’t have one.
What are you currently working on?
Currently I am working on creating a book about the art world and it will include my event work and my artist portraits. I have a piece featured in the show Portrait of a Generation, organized by Kathy Grayson at The Hole gallery that will be up until August 10th.
Words: Heike Dempster