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Annie Leibovitz the portrait of a Wexner Prize winner

Tim Kubick / For The Lantern

More than 40 years ago, Annie Leibovitz paved the way for female photojournalists when she became the only woman to join the staff of “Rolling Stone Magazine.” Leibovitz continues to break barriers in the Ohio State community by becoming the first photographer to win the Wexner Prize.

Leibovitz received the 14th Wexner Prize, an award given to an outstanding contemporary artist, Saturday. The prize includes a $50,000 gift funded by Wexner Center Foundation chairman Leslie Wexner and his wife Abigail Wexner, and a commemorative sculpture.

The prize celebration kicked off Friday night with the Wexner Prize Conversation at the Wexner Center for the Arts, where a gallery of Leibovitz’s work is on display through Dec. 30. Before a crowd of almost 2,000 people, Leibovitz and Jann Wenner, founder, publisher and editor of “Rolling Stone,” sat down for a 90-minute conversation in Mershon Auditorium in which they reminisced about their time spent working together at the magazine.

Wenner hired Leibovitz when she was a 20-year-old art student at San Francisco Art Institute, and said they “learned about photography together,” a sentiment Leibovitz echoed.

“When I came to ‘Rolling Stone,’ it was a magazine of words, (but) we learned that photography could be words,” Leibovitz said.

She shared details of some of her most acclaimed portraits, including the infamous “Rolling Stone” cover of a nude John Lennon embracing Yoko Ono. The photograph was taken in 1980, just hours before Lennon was shot and killed.

Leibovitz said Lennon had felt very strongly that Ono should be photographed with him, saying he was “more in love with her than ever.” Wenner honored that request by making the image Lennon’s memorial cover, with no headline or text around it.

“What more were you going to say? There was nothing to say,” Wenner said, adding that it’s his favorite ‘Rolling Stone’ cover ever.

Wenner and Leibovitz went on to discuss more of her famous portraits, some of which included a pregnant Demi Moore shedding her clothes, Whoopi Goldberg in a bathtub full of white milk and Bette Midler lying in a bed of roses, for “Vanity Fair” and “Rolling Stone,” among other publications.

Sarah Felty, a 27-year-old from Columbus who attended the conversation, said Leibovitz and Wenner were entertaining and engaging.

“I thought she was really humble and I loved the two of them,” Felty said. “They were so at ease with each other and with the audience.”

Andrea Peterson, a 27-year-old from Columbus, said she also enjoyed the rapport between Leibovitz and Wenner.

“Their banter was comical … they have such a history,” Peterson said. “It’s always an incredible opportunity when you hear someone (you) admire speak … and sit yards away from these iconic figures. You felt like it was a triangle conversation, with them and the audience.”

Leibovitz received the Wexner Prize at a private event Saturday night. Sherri Geldin, director of the Wexner Center, President E. Gordon Gee and Leslie Wexner presented her with the prize.

The Wexner Center Board of Trustees, Geldin and the center’s senior program staff work in collaboration to tap someone who they think embodies the ideals of the prize. The award was last given to filmmaker Spike Lee in 2008.

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