HE SAID/SHE SAID
David Rieff, son of the late bisexual writer and essayist Susan Sontag, recently published a memoir about his mother’s passing, Swimming in a Sea of Death.
In it, Rieff recounts his mother’s psychological and physical battle with cancer, and his own role in maintaining her attitude of immortality until the very end of her life.
The New York Times review of Swimming doesn’t mention Rieff’s references to his mother’s longtime lover, famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, in the story of his mother’s death. The reviewer for January magazine, however, writes that Leibovitz is mentioned only twice in Rieff’s memoir, "once as Sontag’s ‘on again, off again’ companion, and finally, blisteringly:
She [Sontag] would not have had the time to mourn herself and to become physically unrecognizable at the end even to herself, let alone humiliated posthumously by being ‘memorialized’ that way in those carnival images of celebrity death taken by Annie Leibovitz.
Rieff is ostensibly referring to Leibovitz‘s controversial 2006 book, A Photographer’s Life: 1990–2005, in which she wrote about her romantic relationship with Sontag and included jarring photographs of her as she succumbed to cancer.
When the book was published, Leibovitz told the New York Times:
Every single image that one would have a possible problem with or have concerns about, I had them too. This wasn’t like a flippant thing. I had the very same problems, and I needed to go through it. And I made the decision in the long run that the strength of the book needed those pictures, and that the fact that it came out of a moment of grief gave the work dignity.
In the same interview and in reference to Sontag’s notoriously private nature, Leibovitz said: “If she was alive, of course this work wouldn’t be published. It’s such a totally different story that she is dead. I mean, she would champion this work.”
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