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Welcome to my Photographer’s Life: the Annie Leibovitz exhibition

Posted by Athenais on October 30, 2008

The National Portrait Gallery, London, is now showing Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life. Let us meet the famous celebrity photographer through her own lens.


The exhibition keeps to the promise of its title. There is little fashion photography to be seen but by the end of it, you feel you have casually spent the afternoon going through all of Leibovitz’s photo albums, over a cup of tea.

Her photographs amaze by their personal quality: ““She is very good at conveying the most intimate quality of a person,” “she’s very invasive,” a visitor comments.

One of the highlights of the visit is a portrait of Scarlett Johansson wearing only a crystal-encrusted breast-piece in the form of flowers and peach satin knickers. She is looking straight ahead, though not at the camera, and the precision of the shot gives the whole picture an incredible force.


The first part of the exhibition is a hallway with blown-up black and white pictures of athletes. The shapes of the bodies are standing out strikingly from the shadows. People are already gasping “incredible” to each other, all the way into the main gallery.

Further down a small room, there is a first shot of a pregnant Demi Moore, taken in 1988. The photo is a close-up of her swollen belly, on which the entangled hands of her lover and herself repose lightly. In the next room, her famous nude of Demi Moore, holding her once more pregnant belly, for 1991 Vanity Fair cover, is taking centre stage.

The exhibition includes the famous celebrity portraits of Leibovitz’s career: Brad Pitt lying nonchalantly on a bed, Leonardo DiCaprio with a swan’s neck tangled around his own and many pictures of politicians and Royalty.

A striking staged photograph is a black and white portrait of Cindy Crawford (New York, 1993), wearing nothing but a snake entangled around her body, posing as Eve, surrounded by a canopy of leaves.

There is something primal and voyeuristic about Leibovitz’s work, as she famously commented about her models: “I am not afraid to fall in love with these people.”

Wall covered by photographs at the exhibition

She is not afraid to expose herself either. There are many miniature gelatin silver prints of family moments, all in black and white ranging from images of her lover Susan Sontag and herself on holiday in Paris, to pictures of her father on his death bed.

Leibovitz has the skill to leap from perfect Hollywood-type ‘mise-en-scene’ to the utterly candid. Although it is easy to tell she likes to direct her photographs and her subjects, before capturing a moment, she is much more than only a celebrity snapper.

This life exhibition was also a way for the photograph to disclose intimate and painful memories of moments passed with her lover Susan Sontag, who died of leukemia in 2004.

The showcased portraits only range from late 1980s to 2005. It can be a bit of a disappointment as the exhibition is missing a lot of fantastic and theatrical shoots taken for Vogue, and the series of Disney Dream photographs.

by Anastasia Porret, amadeo_ld@hotmail.co.uk

Click here for background article on Annie Leibovitz.

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