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How an artist's life's work can vanish in a flash

Annie Leibovitz.

THOMAS COEX/Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Famed photographer Annie Leibovitz is in danger of losing the rights to every photo she has ever taken - and some she has yet to take - if she cannot repay a $24-million loan that came due Tuesday.

Ms. Leibovitz, who turns 60 next month, has faced a slew of lawsuits in recent years as her expenditures outstripped even her considerable earnings. In September of 2008, Art Capital Group, an art-world private bank offering short-term loans, consolidated Ms. Leibovitz's debts and issued her a one-year $22-million secured loan at an undisclosed interest rate, later extending the loan to $24-million at a lower interest rate.

Art Capital has cited Ms. Leibovitz's "dire financial condition" as the reason for the loan.

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That loan was due to be paid Tuesday, but both camps remained mum. Montieth Illingworth, a spokesman for Art Capital, declined to comment on the status of the loan when reached Tuesday, as did Matthew Hiltzik, a spokesman for Ms. Leibovitz. As of Wednesday, Ms. Leibovitz is legally in default.

In July, Art Capital sued Ms. Leibovitz for allegedly breaching the agreement, which Mr. Illingworth says gave it the right to sell the collateral before the loan's Sept. 8 due date, and for two years after it. The complaint claims Ms. Leibovitz "discussed and acknowledged" the fact that she would have to sell the collateral "in whole or in part" in order to repay the loan, but the company now says Ms. Leibovitz blocked its agents from appraising her homes or selling her works.

Under the agreement, the company would get 10 per cent of any sale of her real estate prior to the loan's due date, and 15 per cent of any sale of her photographs, leaving Ms. Leibovitz the remainder after she had repaid the $24-million loan plus interest and fees, according to The Associated Press. If Ms. Leibovitz has defaulted on the loan, Art Capital can now claim a 25 per cent default commission, which would yield an approximate net commission of 12 per cent after costs had been covered.

The Leibovitz portfolio has been valued at $40-million, roughly the same value real estate brokers have attached to her properties.

Leibovitz is a legend of portrait photography, a larger-than-life figure who spurred constant rumours of professional excess in the pursuit of excellence. Her works appear regularly on the covers of magazines such as Vanity Fair and Vogue and her subjects include Queen Elizabeth, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, and an especially famous photo of Demi Moore, nude and pregnant.

Her notoriety as a perfectionist earned her scores of lucrative jobs, with some contracts totalling millions of dollars in salary plus lavish expense tabs, and rumoured six-figure single-day jobs. Ms. Leibovitz was known to occasionally shoulder the costs of a shoot herself, but more often billed them to her employers, be it Condé Nast or Rolling Stone.

But Ms. Leibovitz was also a noted spendthrift, amassing three townhouses in New York's Greenwich Village, a sprawling property in upstate New York, a Chelsea penthouse and a large nearby studio, as well as a Paris atelier overlooking the Seine. She also has three children and spent many years as self-described "lovers" with the late writer and intellectual Susan Sontag.

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Last week, Ms. Liebovitz's troubles continued when an Italian photographer sued her for damages, claiming she had used his images in a calendar without permission.

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About the Author
Banking Reporter

James Bradshaw is banking reporter for the Report on Business. He covered media from 2014 to 2016, and higher education from 2010 to 2014. Prior to that, he worked as a cultural reporter for Globe Arts, and has written for both the Toronto section and the editorial page. More

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