Friday, 20 February 2015

Annie Leibovitz: Life through a Lens

For our photography movie this week, I chose "Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens," a 2007 biography.  Partly I chose it because her photographs have become so iconic and I wanted to know more about her, and partly because I know you've been learning about portrait photography and I thought it might be relevant to that.  I buy the "Hollywood" issue of Vanity Fair magazine each year because it always features a big spread of elaborately staged celebrity photographs by her  that I find fascinating.  Had you heard of her?  Is she someone who is known more in the US, I wonder?

I was struck that she is another photographer from San Francisco (I didn't know that, nor did I know that Rolling Stone magazine started in SF in the 1960's which of course makes perfect sense).  And I found it interesting to hear her describe her progression from someone who just picked up a camera and started taking "reportage" style photographs and evolved into a thoughtful, stylized portrait photographer.  I also liked seeing that she seemed so mobile with her camera -- sure, there were assistants and lights and reflectors, but it really seemed about her and her camera more than any complicated equipment.

The movie was intended to be about her life, of course, but I was wishing there were a bit more info about the photography itself.  She talked about how she met a friend, Bea somebody, who taught her about editing her photos and I wished she'd talked more about that process and what made her hone in on one over another.  I did like hearing her talk about how she developed the concept of setting up a photograph to visually illustrate more about the person and his/her work.  It seems obvious, now, but I suppose her doing that at the time was new and innovative.  And the depth of how she does it is always intriguing to me (which, I guess, is why I go out of my way to find that Vanity Fair issue each year.)   

As the film showed various photographs, I was struck by how many I recognized and how many are part of the instantly identifiable images of certain celebrities.  Whoopi Goldberg in the milk bath.  Demi Moore's pregnant nude magazine cover.  This one of Meryl Streep.

I was intrigued at how baldly she photographed her partner, Susan Sontag, and her father when they were ill and dying. The idea of photographing during such intimate, raw moments is one that feels uncomfortable to me -- too intrusive, too private, I suppose -- yet true and touching and important at the same time. I guess it's reflective of how a photographer sees and experiences everything through a camera. 

 At any rate, I was glad to have seen this and to learn more about this interesting woman. I'll be interested to hear what you think of it.

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