The XX Factor

The Rise and Fall of Annie Leibovitz

This week, New York magazine has a feature on how famed photographer Annie Leibovitz managed to rack up a dizzying $24 million in debt. Everything about the piece is exhausting: the obsessive photo shoots, the colossal personal spending, the step-by-step description of how everything went pear-shaped. But, like any meticulous look into how the other half lives-or, okay, the other one-and-a-half percent-the piece has a weirdly hypnotic power.

Here’s one particularly bewitching detail:

When Sarah [Leibovitz’s daughter] started eating solid food, a rigorous journaling policy was instituted, in which every bite and bowel movement was to be committed to an unlined black notebook purchased from the Swedish stationer Ordning & Reda. Kellum [Leibovitz’s then-assistant] regularly ordered replacement books from Stockholm so that the journaling could easily continue from one book to another. Once, when an order got lost in customs, Leibovitz insisted on having two notebooks sent from Stockholm via a special type of courier service called “quicking.” It was essentially like buying a seat for a parcel on the next plane. The shipping cost alone came to $800.

(My other favorite bit is the one where another photographer says of Leibovitz hooking up with Susan Sontag: “It’s as if Tom Cruise started going out with Akira Kurosowa.”)

What do you make of Leibovitz’s ancient Greek-style downfall? Does it read to you like a sad cautionary tale? Or, as one New York commenter put it, as a “classic case of Long-Term Grandiose Personality Disorder with a frosting of Extreme Narcissism”?

Photograph of Annie Leibovitz by Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images.