“I have no regrets. I feel beautiful when I’m pregnant. I look at stretch marks as something I’ve earned, not as something that wrecks my appearance,” Demi told the Los Angeles Times soon after the issue came out. “I was trying to tell people I feel it’s possible to do all those things — to have a career, be a mother, still be beautiful and sexy. … I mean even on a sexual level, I’ve never felt more beautiful or sexy or more appreciated by my husband [Bruce Willis] than when I’ve been pregnant.”
Demi Moore, Culver City, California, 1991. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz. The photo went on to become one of the most iconic photographs of the past two decades.
Vanity Fair, August 1991 issue
“It’s hard to imagine now, but the portrait of Demi Moore nude and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair was truly scandalous in 1991. Scandalous in the sense of shocking and morally offensive to some people. The first day the issue was available, it sold out on newsstands at Grand Central Station during the morning rush hour. Newsstands in other parts of the country displayed it in a white paper wrapper, as if it were a porn magazine. Several supermarket chains refused to sell it even with the wrapper. Television crews were parked outside the Vanity Fair office for days. Editorialists and pundits weighed in. A few years later, the picture was held responsible for the rise of body-hugging maternity fashions.
None of this was my intention, although it’s gratifying to think that the picture helped make pregnant women feel less awkward or embarrassed about their bodies. It began as a shoot with a specific problem. Demi had a new movie coming out, and Tina Brown, who was the editor of the magazine then, wanted to put her on the cover, but Demi was seven months pregnant with her second child. Tina and I talked about how to handle this, and we decided to go for a glamorous, sexy look. Lori Goldstein, the stylist, brought diamond earrings and a 30-carat-diamond ring to the studio in Los Angeles where we were shooting. We had long gowns, including a green satin robe by Isaac Mizrahi.
Demi and I had worked together several times before, and I’d taken her wedding pictures when she married Bruce Willis, in 1987. I had said to her then that I was interested in photographing a pregnant woman, which at that point I never had. Demi called me when she was going to have their first child. Bruce was working on location in Kentucky and she had gone there to have the baby. I stopped off in Kentucky on the way back to New York from Los Angeles and took a few rolls of black-and-white film. Just for them. Demi and Bruce were not shy about documenting the pregnancy. Several friends and a man with three video cameras were in the room when their daughter was born a few weeks later.
At the cover sitting in 1991, I shot a few close-ups and some full-length portraits. Demi was by no means camouflaged for any of them. In the standing portrait published inside the magazine the green satin robe is pulled off her shoulders and it falls open to expose her belly and leg. In another picture she’s wearing a black lace bra and panties. But the fully nude picture was not taken until toward the end of the shoot and was intended just for Demi. I was taking some companion photographs to the ones I had made during Demi’s first pregnancy. As I was shooting, I said, “You know, this would be a great cover.” It wasn’t until I got back to New York and looked at the proofs that I realized that there really was a great cover photograph there. Tina agreed, although she thought that Demi would be furious if we ran it. She was surprised when Demi said yes right away. We all knew what we were doing up to a point, but none of us completely understood the ramifications.
A few months after the Demi Moore picture was published, an exhibition of my work from 1970 to 1990 opened at the International Center of Photography, in New York. The director of the center, Cornell Capa, wanted to blow the picture up and hang it in the stairwell. I wouldn’t let him. It was a popular picture and it broke ground, but I don’t think it’s a good photograph per se. It’s a magazine cover. If it were a great portrait, she wouldn’t be covering her breasts. She wouldn’t necessarily be looking at the camera. There are different criteria for magazine covers. They’re simple. The addition of type doesn’t destroy them. Sometimes they even need type. My best photographs are inside the magazine.”
Excerpted from Annie Leibovitz at Work, by Annie Leibovitz, Random House, 2008
Speaking in an interview with Vanity Fair – the magazine that placed the image its front cover – Leibovitz says the photograph was not one of her best.
‘It was a popular picture and it broke ground, but I don’t think it’s a good photograph per se,’ Leibovitz said in an interview with Vanity Fair. ‘It’s a magazine cover. If it were a great portrait, she wouldn’t be covering her breasts. She wouldn’t necessarily be looking at the camera.’
Ms Leibovitz has talked in the past of the genesis of the photograph, which came about quite by accident. The photographer tells how she got together with the star to shoot the Vanity Fair cover, but given that Demi was seven months pregnant, Vanity Fair was nervous about the result. The consensus was that Leibovitz would somehow disguise the pregancy, or just shoot a head portrait. But on the day, after a series of shots in various outfits, Leibovitz suggested the nudes.
‘She dropped her clothing and I started to shoot. I said, “well this looks really, I mean… maybe we should make this the cover. Why not?” And she said yes, maybe.’ ‘So we tried to hide everything the best we could. Tina Brown in New York made a decision to go ahead with it. And this is one of those things, it had a life of its own.’
Leibovitz’s naked self-portrait taken when pregnant at age 51