Born in Waterbury, Connecticut, on October 2, 1949, Anna-Lou Leibovitz is the third of six children of Marilyn Edith (née Heit) and Samuel Leibovitz. She is a third-generation American; her father’s parents were Romanian Jews. Her mother was a modern dance instructor of Estonian Jewish heritage. Her father was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force. The family moved frequently with her father’s duty assignments, and she took her first pictures when he was stationed in the Philippines during the Vietnam War.
At Northwood High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, she became interested in various artistic endeavors and began to write and play music. She attended the San Francisco Art Institute, where she studied painting. For several years, she continued to develop her photography skills while holding various jobs, including a stint on a kibbutz in Amir, Israel, for several months in 1969.
She photographed John Lennon on the day he was assassinated, and her work was used on two record albums by Joan Armatrading. She is the first woman to have held an exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery.