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Leibovitz seeks Merkel for new 'outstanding women' exhibition
US photographer Annie Leibovitz gives a speech during a photocall to promote the exhibition "Women: New Portraits" by Annie Leibovitz in London on Janurary 13, 2016. The exhibition was commissioned by Swiss banking giant UBS and opens to the public on January 16, launching a 10-city international tour. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS.

By: Maureen Cofflard

LONDON (AFP).- She managed to photograph American TV host Ellen DeGeneres topless apart from a sparkly bra, her face daubed in a mime's white paint, and got into Buckingham Palace for a photoshoot with the Queen.

But American photographer Annie Leibovitz, who unveiled her new exhibition of portraits of "women of outstanding achievement" in London on Wednesday, says she has not yet snared one of her biggest quarries: German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"She's probably the most important woman in the world today," the celebrated 66-year-old photographer told reporters, speaking at a converted east London power station by the River Thames.

Famous for snapping the world's glitterati, the exhibition is titled "Women: New Portraits", and juxtaposes the world's most politically powerful and glamorous women with scientists and writers, soldiers and cooks.

Singers Adele and Taylor Swift rub shoulders with primatologist Jane Goodall, feminist Gloria Steinem and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, their portraits displayed among industrial red brick walls and metal beams.

"With my work, I'm very very interested in what women do, who we are and it was a big surprise to see with the Women's Project what we look like," Leibovitz said.

'When I grow up I want to be a woman'
As for her favourite portrait, she pointed to a close-up black and white photo of her mother Marilyn, under a snapshot of Leibovitz herself with her three daughters.

Summing up the meaning of her work with an anecdote, Leibovitz told the story of when the young daughter of a cabaret dancer she had photographed in Las Vegas saw some of her pictures.

"Mom, when I grow up I want to be a woman," the eight-year-old had said.

"That was a big deal!" Leibovitz exclaimed.

The exhibition also displayed original work created in 1999 with Susan Sontag, the American essayist and feminist novelist who shared Leibovitz's life and died of leukaemia in 2004.

"Women Project was really Susan Sontag's idea back in 1999, 17 years ago. I actually didn't think it was a good idea, I thought it was too big," Leibovitz said. 

'Great moment in photography'
A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II posing in a lavishly decorated room in Buckingham palace was displayed among photos of more ordinary women, including a soldier, a cook and an anonymous dancer.

Tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Nobel literature prize winner Toni Morrison -- immortalised in black and white, eyes turned to a cloudy sky -- were among some of the more notable faces.

Reacting to the death of David Bowie, the photographer regretted not having had a formal photoshoot with the music legend, whom she had otherwise photographed two or three times in the past.

"When someone that great passes, I just lament that I didn't have that opportunity."

She also spoke of her photographs of Caitlyn Jenner, some of the first to be taken after her transformation from Olympic gold medal-winner Bruce Jenner, and which went on to create a media storm.

"It was really like watching a new person emerge. It was kind of beautiful, it was great," Leibovitz said. 

Although a professional photographer hailed for her artful compositions, Leibovitz did not deride the recent trend of camera-phone snaps and selfies.

She started her career at Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970s, and went on to shoot iconic images for Vanity Fair and high-profile advertising campaigns.

"Being able to use my camera got me out into the world, and changed how you could see the world, and it gave you permission to look in places maybe you wouldn't have looked before," she said.

"That's happening with young people having an interest in photography and their phones... It's actually a great moment in photography with the phone and the phone camera." 

The exhibition was commissioned by financial services firm UBS, and after London, will travel to Tokyo, San Francisco, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Istanbul, Frankfurt, New York and Zurich.

© 1994-2016 Agence France-Presse

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