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A photographer's take on Leibovitz

Posted by Justin McIntosh | November 13, 2012 10:08 AM

 By Meghan Ralston

Last Friday I had the pleasure of attending the Wexner Prize Conversation with photographer Annie Leibovitz and Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone Magazine. I had never seen either of them speak publicly, and didn't really know what to expect. I left the event impressed and inspired.

To put it mildly, Annie Leibovitz is a humble person. Throughout her conversation with Wenner, and in part with the audience, Leibovitz reluctantly accepted praise for creative work that is nothing less than breath taking. She consistently responded to compliments with humility and readily gave credit to her subjects as part of the creative process. What's more, Leibovitz made the photographs she's created and the perspective that she brings to them seem completely effortless. It is one of the things that appeal to so many photographers, including myself, who look to Leibovitz as an inspiration. 

 The common denominator to Leibovtiz's work is an ability to get to the heart of the person, and to translate that into a two-dimensional image. She excels at this, in particular, using the subject’s eyes. Whether the eyes of the subject are looking at the camera or away from it, they are the most telling part of all of Leibovitz’s photos. Here are five photographs that are in the Wexner Center's exhibit this fall that epitomize Leibovitz's unique style. 

1. Queen Elizabeth II, 2007 —  Leibovitz's photograph of Queen Elizabeth II of England at Buckingham Palace is impressive for a multitude of reasons. The way that she used natural window light gives the image a haunting look. Leibovitz also used the mirrors in the room to create a feeling of depth in the scene. She posed the Queen regally, giving her the graceful look that a queen should have. However, Leibovitz was also able to capture the Queen looking extraordinarily human, showing her looking away from the camera in what looks like quiet contemplation. 

 2. Louise Bourgeois, 1997 — This photograph, done on film and printed on silver gelatin, is a classic. It reads much like a photograph 100 years its senior, with a weathered, beaten look and natural lighting with an emphasis on texture. But the photograph of the famous American sculptor shows more than just adept work with lighting, it gives the viewer a glimpse into Louise Bourgeois’ character. Bourgeois frequently dealt with issues of betrayal, childhood trauma and deep gender inequity, which Leibovitz has done an excellent job capturing on her subject’s face. 

3. Cabinet Room, George W. Bush Administration, 2001— Leibovitz’s photo of President George W. Bush and his cabinet was taken a mere three months after Sept. 11. It shows a serious administration, clad in all black power suits. The photograph does an excellent job of communicating the tone of that time in our nation's history, physically showing the gravity of the period. It's vaguely reminiscent of a promotional photograph that was done for the show “The West Wing.” Although I can't find out which photo was done first, my bet is on Leibovtiz. 

4. Showgirls, 1996 — This is actually a set of eight photographs in total, all of which were taken in 1996 for an article in The New Yorker. At first glance, you notice the portraits of each showgirl in her elaborate costume. It's only after you look at all four photos and then step back that you will notice that there are four more corresponding photos on the wall next to them that have the same showgirls, but out of costume.  The two sets serve in sharp juxtaposition of one another, showing both the illusion and the reality of each woman. 

5. Andy Warhol, 1976 — This photograph is one that you may not notice, since it's hung in the hallway of the museum, but it is one of my favorites. Andy Warhol, an equally enigmatic and mysterious figure as Leibovitz, is shown photographing Leibovitz as she photographs him. There is a sort of sentimental quality to the photograph, like you're seeing a snapshot of two photographer friends at a photo shoot. The intimacy that the image conjures is powerful, and communicates a sense of nostalgia that is rarely captured when one does not know the subject or the photographer personally. 

 

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