Hollywood stars, dancers and Trump — The Leibovitz collection Nova Scotia owns but can't display
About 10 per cent of collection at risk of immediate deterioration, some of it may last for centuries
Fans of modern dance will be thrilled to learn that one of the most frequent subjects of the Annie Leibovitz photo collection — currently in indefinite storage at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia — is New York dancer and choreographer Mark Morris.
Everyone else will probably be puzzled.
Leibovitz, arguably the world's most famous celebrity photographer, is popularly known for her playfully staged images of Hollywood stars at the height of their glittering careers.
But the catalogue of her 2,000-photo collection, recently provided to CBC News by the gallery, shows the huge variety of subjects she put under her lens in the course of a four-decade career.
Caught in a quagmire
"The most illustrious figures in politics, art, sports, literature, entertainment and so on," said photographer Adrian Fish, chair of media arts at Halifax's NSCAD University, after examining the catalogue.
"Annie Leibovitz had incredible access to these figures. And I think they are the defining figures of the late 20th and early 21st century."
But whether the public will ever get to see them remains an open question. A CBC News investigation revealed last month how the collection was caught in a quagmire involving a federal tribunal that has derailed prospects of an exhibition.
An analysis of the art gallery's Leibovitz catalogue shows it includes 33 photos of dancer Morris. That number is matched only by U.S. star sprinter Carl Lewis who also appears 33 times. The collection includes 32 photos of Mick Jagger.
Rare Cibachrome images
To an expert lover of photography, some of the 2,070 written descriptions pop like a flash bulb.
"I was quite dazzled actually," said Fish.
Twenty-five images are Cibachrome prints, a rare format Fish has never seen face to face.
"Apparently they're striking images, they're very saturated colours, very high quality," he said.
The Cibachrome images include portraits of Michael Jackson, Tennessee Williams, Demi Moore and Donald and Ivana Trump.
Potential problem with 250 images
But Fish's expert eye also spotted a potential problem with 250 of the photographs, which are black-and-white images printed on resin-coated paper.
"Depending on how they are printed and processed, [they] have a lifespan of 25 or 30 years, and given the dates of some of those images, they'd be very close to the end of their lifespan, from an archival point of view," he said.
The oldest resin-coated prints include images of Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia in 1971, R&B pioneer Ray Charles in 1972 and then-bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1975.
Fish said it's impossible to stop the deterioration of resin-coated prints, but it is possible to scan and reprint them on archive-quality paper.
Digital prints 'could last forever'
Fish says the remaining 1,820 prints, roughly 90 per cent of the collection, should last much longer.
He says 512 older archival-quality prints would have a typical lifespan of 80 years under ideal conditions.
Fish says the 1,308 digital prints created for the collection in 2012 could last indefinitely.
"This was an effort to optimize the quality of the images visually, and also for purposes of archivability," he said.
"If it's pH neutral and archival, it could last forever," he said.
The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia would not answer questions about the condition of the collection.
In an email, spokesperson Colin Stinson said most of the collection was "prepared for appropriate archival storage by the Leibovitz studio prior to their delivery to the Gallery."
He said the other works are "properly stored in archival sleeves or larger archival boxes for their protection."
The collection was donated to the AGNS in 2013 but any plans to show the work were put on hold after the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board declined — on four occasions — to certify the bulk of the work as culturally significant.
A CBC News Investigation revealed last month that the Toronto family who donated the photos to the AGNS had agreed to pay Leibovitz $4.75 million for the collection, with half the money contingent on its certification.
While the gallery owns the photographs, it has suggested Leibovitz retains copyright and can dictate if and when they are exhibited.
Stinson said the gallery has "reached out" to the artist and her studio to discuss next steps.