Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Visit to the Portrait Gallery

This week I went to the National Portrait Gallery in London to visit the Annie Leibovitz - A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005 Exhibit. (It ends February 1st). Unfortunately, it did not impress me.

The images represented included her professional assignment work which deals with many celebrities and public figures - often for magazine covers like Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Vogue. These images are interwoven with personal "snapshots" of her family, children, and lover. Also on display are some images from commissioned work for a travel magazine.

This eclectic mix of photographs felt a bit disjointed.

I feel I approached the exhibit a bit critical to begin with. The overexposure of Annie Leibovitz has made me somewhat cynical about her work. This period of her work - 1990 and beyond appears to have changed from her earlier creations.

I loved what made her famous. The conceptual images she created for each of her celebrity portraits. John Lennon and Yoko Ono (taken hours before he was shot), Whoopi Goldberg in a tub of milk, Steve Martin in an abstract painting, (and even though this was printed in 1991) Demi Moore's pregnancy shoot. Wow, those were innovative - photographing a subject that has been captured in every conceivable way and finding something fresh or unique for the viewer to see. Now that's a challenge.

Now a days, Team Leibovitz comes with an entourage of creative and technical assistants, beautiful posers that know how to play for the camera, unlimited funds, and adoring fans. The magic is somehow lost with all that. Is it the cult of celebrity? Is her edge gone? She's already at the top of her game, why should she push it the envelope?

Last year, a group of photographers and myself decided to take on a challenge. Create a Vanity Fair cover. It was very fun. First I had to think about what Vanity Fair covers were all about - celebrity portraits, style and artistic expression. Now I had to find a celebrity - unfortunately I don't have any on my speed dial. So a look alike will do.

Haven't you had someone say....."Did anyone ever tell you, you look like________"

Okay, so there - I found someone that I thought (and had been told on occasion) they resemble Jamie Lee Curtis. And fortunately I found someone who is a natural in front of the camera too! We did the shoot - used a template for a magazine cover and Ta Da....................... My first cover shoot.

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