(CNN) -- Annie Leibovitz on Monday defended her provocative photograph for Vanity Fair magazine of teen heartthrob Miley Cyrus -- aka Hannah Montana -- who has expressed embarrassment about the pose.
"I'm sorry that my portrait of Miley has been misinterpreted," the celebrity photographer said in a written statement. "Miley and I looked at fashion photographs together and we discussed the picture in that context before we shot it. The photograph is a simple, classic portrait, shot with very little makeup, and I think it is very beautiful."
The statement came a day after the 15-year-old apologized to her fans for her participation in the photo shoot, which took place February 9 in Calabasas, California.
"My goal in my music and my acting is always to make people happy," Cyrus said in a written statement. "For Vanity Fair, I was so honored and thrilled to work with Annie.
"I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be 'artistic' and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed. The pictures of me on the Internet were silly, inappropriate shots.
"I appreciate all the support of my fans and hope they understand that along the way I am going to make mistakes and I am not perfect.
"I never intended for any of this to happen and I am truly sorry if I have disappointed anyone. Most of all, I have let myself down. I will learn from my mistakes and trust my support team. My family and my faith will guide me through my life's journey."
Vanity Fair spokeswoman Beth Kseniak also defended the pictures, which are posted on the magazine's Web site and are being published in the June issue.
"Miley's parents and/or minders were on the set all day," Kseniak said in a written statement. "Since the photo was taken digitally, they saw it on the shoot and everyone thought it was a beautiful and natural portrait of Miley. In fact, when [Vanity Fair writer] Bruce Handy interviewed Miley, he asked her about the photo and she was very cheerful about it and thought it was perfectly fine."
But the publicist for Cyrus said her parents departed at the end of the day, prior to the pictures being taken and did not see any digital pictures.
Cyrus stars as an ordinary teenager with a double life as a rock star on the Disney Channel's "Hannah Montana." The channel says "Hannah Montana" is the top-rated cable television show for children ages 6 to 14, reaching more than 164 million viewers around the world.
One of Leibovitz's pictures shows a topless Cyrus clutching a blanket to her chest, her back exposed, looking toward the camera over one shoulder.
A caption reads: "Um, was Cyrus -- or Disney -- at all anxious about this shot?" It then quotes Cyrus as saying: "No, I mean I had a blanket on. And I thought, 'This looks pretty, and really natural.' I think it's really artsy."
The magazine refers to the "topless but demure portrait" as Leibovitz's idea and quotes Cyrus as saying, "It wasn't in a skanky way. ... And you can't say no to Annie. She's so cute. She gets this puppy dog look and you're like, 'O.K.' "
A Disney Channel spokesman, Patti McTeague, said in a statement released Sunday that the photos were meant to sell magazines.
"Unfortunately, as the article suggests, a situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines," she said.
The incident underscores the polarities that exist in society about how to view sexuality among girls -- repress it or exploit it, said Gigi Durham, author of "The Lolita Effect."
"Neither is healthy," she said.
Though the photographs are "artistically very beautiful," the magazine is "exploiting her body for profit," she said.
"I have certain qualms about exploiting girls' sexuality in this way," she said. "She's young and ought to be able to explore her sexual self without a commercial emphasis being put on it."
That is not to say that nudity or sex is bad, she said. Even teens ought to be able to express themselves sexually, she added. But, "within the commercial context, it becomes sexuality for profit, which is an entirely different issue."
Cyrus completed a 70-date tour this year that sold out venues nationwide, starred in a movie that ranked number one in February and saw two albums rocket toward the top of the charts.
This is not the first time Leibovitz's work has raised eyebrows. She shot a 1980 photograph of a nude John Lennon hugging his clothed wife, Yoko Ono, that appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone and two cover shots for Vanity Fair of actress Demi Moore, one showing the nude actress seven months pregnant, the other showing the nude actress with a suit painted on her body. E-mail to a friend