Crowning glory … Annie Leibovitz. Photograph: Andy Rain/Corbis

Just before everyone ran out of money last year, I paid way too much cash for two photographs – one of the Clash and one of Chic, both taken at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1979 by Jill Furmanovsky. Despite my house price fluttering downwards, salary looking shaky and pension all but collapsing around me, these two pictures have proved my greatest investment: both have doubled in price in the last 12 months and as Annie Leibovitz shuffles around hunting for cash to pay off her $24m (£14.5m), I’m tempted to flog them both and send her the money.

It’s thanks to her that these pictures exist, that they have a recognised, independent beauty and value that documents a moment in history – indeed, it’s thanks to her that a combination of five guitar players, two singers and a drummer can be considered history at all.

Leibovitz has been the eyes of the boomer generation since she joined Rolling Stone in 1970. Her lens work in that magazine and subsequently Vanity Fair was the artillery behind her print compadres – Lester Bangs, Cameron Crowe, David Fricke – in their assault on pre-60s cultural values.

Before Leibovitz, we were arguably living in a Mad Men world of goofy visuals, meaningless phrases and an absolute ignorance of women or youth. It’s that influence that’s in danger of being forgotten as we marvel at her spectacular misspending – mortgage debts of $15m, a total of $2.1m in unpaid taxes, plus various claims of unpaid bills that top out above $500,000. “The mind that can take these extraordinary pictures is not necessarily the same mind that is a perfect money manager,” according to Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair.


Stephen Armstrong