Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Reflections on Saturday's Outing

The Annie Leibovitz exhibition that I viewed at the High Museum of Art last year has made its way across the pond and is now at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In her review for The Guardian, Liz Jobey writes:
...Leibovitz explains that she had considered making a book entirely of personal photographs, but then she concluded "that the personal work on its own wasn't a true view of the last 15 years. I don't have two lives. This is one life, and the personal pictures and the assignment work are all part of it." While that must be true in practical, physical terms, what it doesn't acknowledge is the emotional difference between assignment pictures and personal ones. The mixing of the two kinds of photographs in this show seemed to confuse the audience, as they moved from public to personal to public again, they looked as if they didn't weren't sure how to respond.
While I don't entirely agree with Jobey's criticism, it reminded me of the difficulties I had with the exhibition a year ago - namely with the lack of mention of Susan Sontag as Leibovitz's partner despite the many photographs of her. So, in response to the Guardian's piece, I'm re-posting my own take here:

On Saturday, Casmall and I went to see the Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life, 1990 - 2005 exhibition at the High Museum of Art. The collection of photographs is beautiful and haunting. Much of the power of the exhibition comes from the juxtaposition of celebrity portraits taken for magazines like Rolling Stone with her personal photography, the unifying narrative coming from photographs of her family and of Susan Sontag, her lover. What I find disturbing, though, is that while the exhibition deals, in a large part, with the relationship between Susan Sontag and Leibovitz and with Susan Sontag’s fight with cancer and eventual death, no mention is made of the photographer’s love in descriptions of the exhibition. Galleries announce that “[t]he personal photographs in the exhibition document many events involving her family, including the birth of Leibovitz’ three daughters and the death of her father,” but are silent about the more prominent theme of the loss of a lover and the looking back on a shared life. It is hard to say if it is the decision of the gallery to remain silent about such an important element of the exhibition, or if the lack of mention of Sontag's relationship with Leibovitz from descriptions is instead due to Ms. Leibovitz’s desire for privacy.

Above is one of my favorite portraits from the collection. It shows Marilyn Leibovitz, the photographer’s mother.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Am interested to know why this was your favourite portrait.