Caitlyn Jenner, Amy Schumer Among Annie Leibovitz's 'Women' on View in San Francisco

Annie Leibovitz Gloria Steinem - Publicity - H 2016
John Salangsang/ of Sutton PR

Annie Leibovitz Gloria Steinem - Publicity - H 2016

Gloria Steinem joined the renowned photographer to launch the first North American stop of her installation's 10-city yearlong tour.

"I'm not even going to go there," says Annie Leibovitz, nodding toward her portrait of Caitlyn Jenner— veins and breasts bulging out of her white bodice — not on the cover of Vanity Fair, but up close and personal, on a floating wall in a 1951 U.S. military outpost in San Francisco’s Presidio National Park. It’s March 22, three days before the launch of the first North American stop on the photographer’s global tour of "Women: New Portraits," which after its tenure in the Bay Area (through April 17) will touch down in Singapore, New York, Zurich and three other global cities (it already has passed through London and Tokyo) between now and the end of 2016.

The show is a sequel, so to speak, to Leibovitz's 1999 series with Susan Sontag, which featured maids and coal miners, surgeons and socialites. "Back then, it was harder to figure out who to shoot," Leibovitz says. "I remember thinking at the time, 'This is a bad idea, it’s like trying to photograph the ocean; it’s too big.'" But this time was almost too easy, names kept pouring out. "It was effortless," she says. In assembling her list, she sought the input of her friend — and subject — Gloria Steinem, who stood beside her on this sunny Tuesday morning morning in a black leather jacket and faux saber-tooth belt buckle, arguably the hippest 81-year-old out there and far more stylish than Leibovitz in her trademark baggy black slacks and Salomon hiking boots.

"There’s not enough imagery of women in art," says Steinem, speaking to a crowd of mostly women half her age, gazing at both her and Leibovitz with awe and admiration.

Specifically of strong and varied and demonstratively confident women who possess a sense of self, like the ones Leibovitz presents here with stark honesty and depth. Her first "Women" series had "all the good bones — the farmers and school teachers and scientists," she says. But with these images, she captures famous women. Consequential women. "I only like to shoot people I like and admire," she says laughing. "A really great photographer would photograph all walks of life." As if Leibovitz, 40 years into her career, isn’t really great. With her latest installation — backed carte blanche by UBS — she only further cements herself as the photographer of our time.

Sheryl Sandberg, Menlo Park, California, 2015 © Annie Leibovitz from WOMEN: New Portraits

There’s Shonda Rhimes texting on her phone, with her legs kicked up on a desk on the Oval Office set of Scandal. Sheryl Sandberg sitting serenely in a conference room at Facebook in a leather skirt, "looking sexy and that’s OK," Leibovitz says. Lena Dunham rumpled and exposed outside on a gray day. Malala Yousafzai, in her classroom in Birmingham, England at the end of the school day, with a subtle smile — "the only woman smiling and she was almost shot to death," Leibovitz says. Alice Waters, a little more wrinkled than you might remember her, lying with her daughter Fanny Singer in an orchard of apples. Amy Schumer and her sister, Kim Caramele, "looking serious" at work in their messy kitchen, laptops open, wine glasses almost empty. Steinem sitting in her Manhattan apartment, at her equally cluttered desk. "Annie calls this my cockpit," Steinem tells THR. "Funny enough."

Leibovitz depicts these women as the individuals they are. As Steinem puts it, each photograph is a "complete novel," revealing complicated lives and real human stories. Ultimately showing that "instead of being ornaments, our bodies are instruments."

WOMEN: New Portraits by Annie Leibovitz, commissioned by UBS, opens on March 25 and runs through April 17 at The Presidio's Crissy Field, 649 Old Mason St., San Francisco. Find more info here.