Vanity Fair cover snapper Leibovitz has been enlisted to give the Swiss bank’s relaunch a touch of glamour (if not financial nous)
The news that UBS have commissioned Annie Leibovitz to do a series of portraits of notable or worthy women for their brand relaunch brings with it an intriguing question. Why does the bank – which prides itself on being a model of financial propriety – want to associate itself with a photographer who has endured much-publicised financial travails, including nearly losing the rights to the 100,000 photos she’s taken after a $24 million loan she took out went wrong?
Leibovitz and the bank’s head of communications, Hubertus Kuelps, were in London today to launch the project, ‘WOMEN: New Portraits’, which will tour ten global cities throughout 2016, and in an interview I asked Kuelps just this question. ‘You know, I think what we looked at was who’s the best, and who’s considered – at least to my mind – the portrait photographer of our time, and that’s her, and we’re entirely comfortable with that.’
But surely it doesn’t send the best message about UBS’s financial capabilities? ‘In the end I come back to that she’s the best at what she does, we’re very good at what we do, and that’s what important. No-one’s asking her to be an expert at what we’re an expert at.’
In the press conference, Leibovitz, who photographed Caitlyn Jenner for the cover of Vanity Fair where she came out as transgender (‘There was no retouching with that cover because she was already retouched’), said UBS had given her freedom in her work, which ‘feels like I’m flying’. ‘They see it as a pretty healthy thing to be related to me, which is kind of extraordinary.’
Pictured above: Annie Leibovitz with her children, Sarah, Susan and Samuelle, Rhinebeck, New York, 2015 (c) Annie Leibovitz
I asked her whether there were any ironies in photographing women for an industry which is overwhelmingly male; Leibovitz replied that she’s sure UBS know ‘there are a lot women in the Forbes list.’ Kuelps interposed to say that 40 per cent of UBS’s team were female.
UBS, which has a long history of collecting Contemporary art, approached Leibovitz because ‘we thought we needed a little bit more than your classic advertising campaign.’ Rolling Stone and Vogue cover photographer Leibovitz is updating the Women series she published in 1999 with 50 or 60 new portraits, including Venus and Serena Williams, comedian Amy Schumer and ladies Leibovitz will shoot as the tour progresses.
The tour is treading safe ground – London, Tokyo, Zurich, New York – only reaching two vaguely emerging markets: Istanbul and Mexico City. Kuelps says they decided to go where their clients are, but it seems like a missed opportunity to develop the UBS brand in, say, Rio or Lagos.
And how many works by Leibovitz, I asked Stephen McCoubrey, regional curator of the UBS art collection, are in the UBS collection at the moment? None, he said. But, he added, works from WOMEN would change that.
’WOMEN: New Portraits’ by Annie Leibovitz opens at Wapping Hydraulic Power Station on 16 January 2016