Photographer Annie Leibovitz drew applause from the overflow audience last Thursday evening at Hendricks Chapel when she snapped pictures of the audience from the stage before her talk. Photo by Stephen Sartori, courtesy Syracuse University.
Used to be, if you went an hour early to Hendricks Chapel on the Syracuse University quad for one of the special lectures there -- Irish poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney was there barely three weeks ago, the next-to-last speaker in the 2009-2010 edition of the prestigious University Lecture Series -- you might get a front row seat. Not so last week, when the 1,000-seat facility was almost full already by 6:30. Modern photo giant Annie Leibovitz, some of whose work really is iconic, wound up that series with a campus appearance she'd been promising her niece Samantha for the past four years. That niece is graduating next weekend from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications; another niece made the trip over from Ithaca, where she attends Cornell.
This seemed a family affair in more ways than one. Besides providing a huge and hugely enthusiastic contingent, the Newhouse School had co-sponsored Leibovitz's visit. Their photo professor Larry Mason introduced her. And Leibovitz herself noted during her talk that she was "especially proud to be asked" by the Newhouse School because "they've long been benefactors of artists." Leibovitz noted she'd now worked for "Si" Newhouse in Cond (c) Nast or some other part of that family's media holdings for "27 years this month." Speaking to her niece from the pulpit, Leibovitz noted that "future has to be invented."
So people of all ages filled the pews and lined the walls upstairs and down; more sat on the floor in front of the pews. They cheered when Leibovitz walked up the aisle, cheered when she went on stage and turned around and snapped some pictures herself, cheered when -- after Mason noted that she'd written her 2008 book "At Work" as a sort of "primer" in response to being called "seductive" because subjects would do things for her they wouldn't for other photographers -- she waved a hand and mimed exaggerated disbelief behind him. And though University staff had warned press beforehand there would be no photography - ha! - no recording and no interviews,the place was crawling with cameras. Next to me in a side pew three or four rows back, SU faculty Karen Kirkhart carried two books she hoped Leibovitz would sign afterward -- she smoothed the cover of one with her palm, the way you do with something treasured -- saying, "And I hope they paid her a bundle, too!"