Canada's Curatorial Conundrum Considering Annie Leibovitz

Canada's Curatorial Conundrum Considering Annie Leibovitz

When it comes to the art world, the value of a piece of work is generally however much people are willing to pay. But in one case happening in Canada, it's not quite that simple.

Annie Leibovitz needs no introduction (he says before introducing her). She is known for gorgeous portraits of celebrities and politicians often utilizing a single light. As a photographer, Leibovitz has prints. Prints that fetch a lot of money. And that is where this article's focus is.

Businessman and friend of Leibovitz's, Harley Mintz, bought a collection of 2,000 prints of her work paying her approximately $2.5 million in 2013. This is half of an agreed upon price of $4.75 million, with the other half to be paid after the collection was certified. This is where the problems started. Two days after the purchase, Mintz donated the prints to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, claiming that he had them appraised at $20 million, meaning that the tax credit he received from the donation would be worth more than the money he would be paying to Leibovitz.

The Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board, which exists to determine whether or not art and other cultural artifacts donated to museums and galleries are of "outstanding significance and national importance" for income tax purposes, denied the collection a certification on four separate occasions, claiming it was a tax shelter move.

Since Leibovitz owns the copyright to the prints, as she has yet to be paid all the money owed to her, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is in limbo. They have thousands of gorgeous prints, ready to go for a big show and yet they cannot legally showcase them. The current option is that the gallery pays Leibovitz the remainder of the money she is owed in order to get permission to showcase the gallery, but this isn't without drawbacks.

For one, Nova Scotia is not a big rich province, so to be spending over $2 million for a bunch of prints is a lot of money. Secondly, Leibovitz has next to zero ties to Nova Scotia, a province which is very proud of its heritage, so giving all this money to someone who has never given the province a second thought instead of more local-oriented artists has definitely ruffled some feathers.

In my opinion, I feel as though Mintz is doing some shady dealings. The fact that Leibovitz would not be curating or attending the exhibition, and the fact that he turned around and donated the prints just days later and claiming they were worth over four times what he had agreed to pay for them sets off a lot of red flags and I feel the Canadian Government is right to deny the certification.

With that said, I also feel it's a good investment for the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia to pay the money she is owed as it is a fairly unique exhibition — with lots of drama around it now — that will bring people in from all over. This means more eyeballs on the rest of the gallery's collection of Nova Scotian artists, as well as money to local restaurants, hotels, and businesses resulting in (hopefully) a net positive for the province.

What do you think about this whole situation? Is Mintz being genuine in his donation? Would you travel to Nova Scotia for this exhibition to see what all the hubbub is about?

Photo by Robert Scoble from WikiMedia under Creative Commons 2.0.

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54 Comments

Timothy Harris's picture

I have more issues with Robert Scoble as “photographer” in the article. Is Annie Leibovitz aware her “likeness” is masked under a Creative Commons license?

luxludus's picture

ROTFLMAO, Hey, this is the same guy revolutionizing photography with a 'self portrait' in the shower using Google Glass (yes, kids, there used to be something called 'Google Glass' - some scam that made gullible morons, like Scoble, pay $1500 for some ugly glasses with a (bad) camera built into it...)

Andy Barnham's picture

I saw an Annie L exhibition some time back and was more taken with her candid street images, displayed on repeat on tv screens, than her commissioned work.

I find it hard to like her commissioned work as it takes a small army, including multiple lights, and I believe huge amounts of retouching, per image. It feels as if she’s bigger than her work and clients agree to whatever price she charges due to her name alone, not the quality of her images.

In regards to your questions, it sounds as if Mintz is not being genuine and no I would not travel to see it (and yes, I appreciate the irony having been to a previous exhibition).

g coll's picture

I wouldn't judge an image by the amount of people involved or the amount of retouching involved either. Would you? Are you implying those are bad things and therefore an image should be judged more harshly?

davidlovephotog's picture

Watched her masterclass and the only thing I learned is that she does nothing but push the shutter for her pics. She doesn't position lights, can barely direct talent and sits next to her editor telling them to fix her images. Hard to believe she owns the rights alone when so many people work on every image. Get a small octabox on a strobe and someone to edit and retouch and you too can have her style.

David J. Fulde's picture

I mean, directors of feature films get all the credit and they often never touch the camera. The only difference is that Annie takes a single photo while movie directors do 24 every second

davidlovephotog's picture

Only difference is that long credit list after a movie. She doesn't have that and people assume magic comes out of her camera.

Eric Ventress's picture

But there are a LOT more moving parts on a feature film for the director to put his stamp on than just what is captured by the camera. That is not a particularly apt comparison.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

"Get a small octabox on a strobe and someone to edit and retouch and you too can have her style."

A lot of people think that, but they don't have her client list.

michaeljin's picture

It goes to show you that success is about way more than talent or skill. There's also the matter of having the fortune to be in the right places and make the right connections in life.

g coll's picture

Being the person who presses the shutter or positions the strobe is completely irrelevant. The entire concept and art direction of the shoot is hers and therefore 100% of the creation is hers. Of course she owns the rights.

davidlovephotog's picture

Yup she's the one that says "Stand over there and you look left. Hand me my camera." Click, hands camera back, "Done. Now edit it for me." Watch her masterclass to see just how she works. Could hardly even direct the talent.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

That happens in a lot of large productions. The bigger the shoot, the less I need to do once it starts. There are people who are being paid to do it. I have a retoucher, I have assistant(s) if needed have a lighting guy and a HMU gal...
Not everyone is a Jack of all trades.

davidlovephotog's picture

What does that leave for the person taking the picture? You don't even have to scale it correctly if someone can rotate and crop it later. Just walk on set, grab the camera and close your eyes and wait for the focus beep and click, then let someone else make it something. I'm too much of a control freak to leave that much to others except in maybe a video setting where I'd have a team.

davidlovephotog's picture

Here she is pointing a stick as she tells the person that creates the look of her images what she wants burned and dodged. So her look is not even her look. People just see famous people.

David J. Fulde's picture

That retoucher's work probably looks different depending on his client. Her look is her look because it is what she wants. Know who else uses/used retouchers?

Richard Avedon

Irving Penn

Platon

Martin Schoeller

David LaChapelle

Albert Watson... Shall I go on?

Most photographers at that level have specialized. They know what they are best at - bringing out emotion of their subjects and setting up a scene - knowing what are the best moments to capture etc. THAT is why only Platon can take a Platon image, not because he's photographing celebrities. He can pull out such gorgeous emotion from his subjects - he just doesn;t retouch his own photos

davidlovephotog's picture

So you haven't watched her masterclass then?

Sean Sauer's picture

Directors don't edit their own movies how is this any different? Oh, that's right it's not.

davidlovephotog's picture

If you don't know the difference between a directors work on a film project compared to a photographer I can't help you. A photographer has to be director, cinematographer, editor and colorist.

Sean Sauer's picture

Not if you're Annie Leibovitz. When you get to her status level then you can complain about this but since you never will I can't help you.

davidlovephotog's picture

Clever for a blank profile.

Sean Sauer's picture

Why do you care if I have a bio? Were you trying to see my work so you could try and tear me down? I know that would make you feel better but all it does is make you look insecure about your own work. Particularly when you try and tear down someone like Annie Leibovitz you just look silly. Just go, shoot, learn and be humble. Cheers.

Kirk Darling's picture

"...she does nothing but push the shutter for her pics. She doesn't position lights, can barely direct talent and sits next to her editor telling them to fix her images. Hard to believe she owns the rights alone when so many people work on every image. Get a small octabox on a strobe and someone to edit and retouch and you too can have her style."

These days, you can't walk into Buckingham Palace with just a small octabox and a strobe and guarantee outstanding photographs of the Queen of England. You'll need a staff to match her staff and to ensure success before you walk into the room, and certainly before the queen walks into the room.

davidlovephotog's picture

No but you can with a huge one. One light and then have someone edit to hell and gone.

Kirk Darling's picture

There was an immense amount of activity that went on between Leibovitz' team and the palace staff before that moment, and at the same time of that moment, there was activity going on in the other palace locations that Leibovitz would be shooting.

You don't think the queen stood waiting while Leibovitz moved her light and set everything back up again in each location, do you?

davidlovephotog's picture

Of course not. I doubt she even told them where to put the light.

Kirk Darling's picture

Why should she have to? She'd most likely discussed it with them beforehand, and they've worked with her long enough to know what she'd want to start with. That's what good assistants do.

davidlovephotog's picture

Watch the masterclass and see how she works and exactly what she has to teach. Spoiler alert: Nothing

Kirk Darling's picture

From what I've seen, her masterclass is predominantly philosophy. That's okay for what it is. Some people already know the basics.

Steve Gould's picture

"......that will bring people in from all over. This means more eyeballs on the rest of the gallery's collection of Nova Scotian artists, as well as money to local restaurants, hotels, and businesses resulting in (hopefully) a net positive for the province."

You seriously think $2.25 Million is a good investment? I'll bet you could count on your fingers the number of people who would travel to Nova Scotia specifically to see this exhibition.

Simon Patterson's picture

The only question here is : what are they worth? Only the market can decide that.

It's an easy question to answer. Put them up for auction.

Whatever amount it makes becomes Mitz' tax credit. If it makes over $4.75mil, then Leibovitz gets the balance owing to her. The art gallery keeps the rest.

Then we'll see who the shady party is. That would be the side who doesn't agree to such an arrangement.

michaeljin's picture

I'm confused. How would putting them up for auction solve anything? Or are you saying have a public vote on what they're worth?

Simon Patterson's picture

Auctioning the collection is the only surefire way to determine its value. A vote with people's wallets, if you will.

Once the collection is auctioned, the photographer gets her money, the gallery gets the balance of the value of the collection in cash, and the millionaire gets his tax credits. And all parties get fair value, as determined by the market, which is the only true way to determine real value.

Kirk Darling's picture

If you put them up for auction, then the gallery would only get what didn't sell at all..the least worthy prints.

Simon Patterson's picture

The gallery would get the value of the sale, minus the amount owed to the photographer.

Kirk Darling's picture

It's not yet certain the gallery owns them.

Simon Patterson's picture

This makes no difference if all 3 parties agree to the arrangement.

David Penner's picture

The province definitely does not have the money to just buy millions of dollars worth of art.

michaeljin's picture

Don't display the photos. Rent a storage unit without any climate control, throw them all in there, and stop paying for the unit so that it can show up on an episode of Storage Wars. Just make sure to put everything in randomly labelled boxes to confuse everyone at the auction.

On a serious note: Ain't nobody going to freaking Nova Scotia to see some Annie Leibovitz photos...

Deleted Account's picture

Annie Leibovitz is the most overrated photographer that exists…

Deleted Account's picture

Annie Leibovitz exists because she was in the right place at the right time and knew the right people. She was just "built" by show business friends and politicians friends.
Annie Leibovitz is very good at selling herself, she is an excellent manager, but not the best photographer as some people would like we believe.
I'm not saying she's a bad photographer, but there are thousands of unknown photographers who are surely better than her. Unfortunately for them, they do not have the necessary relationships to become famous.

And for your information, the reason why I have no pictures on this site, or on others, concerns only me and my clients

Kirk Darling's picture

She also didn't get overawed by the stars, successfully got them to drop their masks, and took perceptive and technically superior images. Consistently.

g coll's picture

The most? I think you're suffering from Tall Poppy Syndrome.

Kirk Darling's picture

It sounds to me like Mintz had planned a massive tax scam from the beginning.

Even though Leibovitz got some big money (and probably more than the set of 2,000 photos would get at auction) and the gallery has a nice set of photographs, they were both like the people who make money in a Ponzi scheme. They were tools for the bigger scam.

Mintz needs to be arrested for an attempted fraud of the government and Leibovitz and the gallery should keep what they have.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Heck, send the prints back to her and get CANADIAN photographers work on their walls. Unbelievable.

RT Simon's picture

Leibovitz avoided bankruptcy in 2009 as she had overextended herself and nearly lost all her property and work.

This saga has been going on so long in Nova Scotia that you would think they would have given up.

How many Canadian art elites have they tried to influence as the next acquisition committee appoints new members who may be swayed?

Oh and by the way: This stinks of abuse.

mark wilkins's picture

Mintz is obviously a tax scammer. The "really famous photographer doing nothing" thing has always conflicted me. Im sure the dues were paid for decades before that point..but it really does turn into something where clients pay for a "Name" on a shot that hundreds of struggling photographers could easily shoot. In the early 90's I shot in Miami...and my first day there I woke up to Patrick Demarchelier shooting in my hotel lobby. He didnt lift a finger for almost an hour...sipping espresso with clients. When everything was ready...he walked up...put his finger on the button for maybe a minute...then walked back to his coffee that had barely cooled off. Did he deserve to get to that point? Absolutely. But damn....it was one light with a team of like 8 people. The next day I duplicated the same shot...it took me 15 minutes. Alone.

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