Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Annie Liebovitz: too much



Not really expecting to like it and certainly not to warm to it. Mega glossy celebrity stuff, bah! However stunningly talented, bah! No postcards here. No photos on the exhibition leaflet, not even tiny ones, not even written-across. Bah! There was nonetheless the thought that an opportunity to see a whole lot of the work of a great photographer should not be passed up.

Well, it wasn't quite like that. Not so easy. The huge, flashy, overwhelmingly perfect works are interspersed with photos of her family and friends: small, powerful pictures of love and death. Holding, responding to the two modes simultaneously was a complex and troubling experience. The two poles, perhaps, of what photography can be, or convince you that it is: personal and mechanical, distilled reality and pure artifice. They can cancel each other out, but here were both so blatantly present that they didn't, just existed in powerful contradiction.

I was both compelled and repelled, both pleasured and sickened, and on the whole came away feeling less negative about the photographer, more interested, and pretty impressed really by what could inspire such a strong and complicated response.

8 comments:

Zhoen said...

Strangely, I came to her work, knowing it was her at least, from the smaller, intimate photos. Only then did I find, and realize I knew, the slick professional set. To see both together, I think I would be as conflicted as you describe your own experience.

Beth said...

Not surprised that the retrospective struck you this way. I'd like to see it too. We saw a big show of her portraits of women at the ICP in New York a while ago and I had a similar reaction, even though these were all more in the "slick professional category" but once in a while, something else came through. I haven't seen her late photos of Susan Sontag; it would be hard, I think. Were they part of this show? As the partner of a professional/personal photographer, this all brings up a lot of stuff, and I guess I'd allow the art to trump privacy considerations, even if the photos were of me and mine. But it's a tough call.

Rachel Fox said...

Did you see the TV documentary about her recently? She came over as one of those powerhouse women artists...so energetic, so hardworking, so sure somehow about what she is doing. Most of us dither so much and weave about here and there. I was left just saying 'Wow' at the end.

the psycho therapist said...

Wow, interesting to read this. I've always loved her work, really loved it. Must be the eternal hippie in me. (smiling joyfully)

All those great shots of beloved musicians...she contributed mightily to the success of Rolling Stone magazine.

I've read tales of how she conducted shoots and worked with her subjects to put them at ease. Her intuitive creative approach fascinated and resonated...still.

That's what's so interesting about art, ya know, the whole subjective experience piece. Cool.

litlove said...

How interesting. I always like Annie Leibowitz's work, and I mean the glossy stuff here since that's all I've ever seen, because I felt she still had a hold on the humanity of her subjects. The technique was flawless and the surface gloss relentless, but there was always something, some point of vulnerability or charm in the pictures that made them accessible. I would very much like to see the more intimate photography she did.

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Tall Girl said...

...maybe a quick edit to the title of this post...?

Jean said...

Tall Girl, that's weird, it was Thursday or Friday when I finally noticed that I'd spelled her name wrong (right above the poster that spelled it correctly - oh my god, no one that tired should be posting anything on the internet) and Saturday when you left the comment... Thank you, anyway. I always appreciate the friend who says something, like when you have a smut on you face... :-)