Annie Leibovitz (And How Her Exhibit at the Wexner Changed My Opinion of Photography forever)
My friend and I spent our Saturday afternoon at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts, on the opening day of the Annie Leibovitz photography exhibit. I had been anxiously awaiting this photography exhibit since I first arrived on campus, knowing that Annie had been the head photographer for Rolling Stone magazine in its 70’s heyday. This piqued my interest and I decided that I had to at least stroll through this exhibit of portraits.
Before I was introduced to Annie’s form of art, I was hardly interested in photography. I am a great lover of art museums and art history, but have found photography to be less interesting and even less imaginative than, say, a painting or sculpture. I have quite a few photographer friends that would be devastated to hear this, but it was my firm belief that photography was more of a hobby than an art form. Anyone with a camera can take a picture, but only a miniscule fraction of human beings can paint like Picasso.
Boy, was I wrong!
What changed my mind immediately was the wide variety of celebrities that Leibovitz photographed. I have always been a fan of pictures that humanize celebrities, like goofy candid shots or casual at-home shots. However, Annie’s portrayals of the famous faces completely threw me for a loop. Beautiful women such as Angelina Jolie, Michelle Obama, Grace Slick and Demi Moore were transformed into both untouchable goddesses and approachable attractions through Leibovitz’s techniques. Leibovitz knew exactly the features to accentuate with every one of her subjects, whether it be the whimsy of the White Stripes or the quirkiness of David Byrne, to cause any viewer to feel magnetically drawn to her works.
To say I was reeling is a severe understatement. Any skepticism I held toward photography melted away after making my way around the sprawling display of Leibovitz’s work. I had never seen such emotion in art before, most likely because the photographs were raw and real. The photos, blown up to hang regally on the white walls, were the stills of real life. They were physical proof that real life is beautiful and something to capture for posterity. I found myself experiencing emotions that I had never experienced in an art museum–I was giggling at a picture of Whoopi Goldberg and grinning wildly at photos of Jack Lemmon and Clint Eastwood instead of staring quietly and thoughtfully at an assortment of canvas. The experience was wild!
If you are at all familiar with Leibovitz’s work, then you know that she was the last to photograph John Lennon alive, only hours before he was assassinated. The iconic photograph from the shoot is one of the most tender and touching images in the history of photography (in my humble opinion–my love for the Beatles may make me biased). Leibovitz’s extraction of the deep qualities of her subjects blew my mind–I became lost in single photographs and minutes passed by like milliseconds. I wish I had the chance to thank her in person for her talent, and for changing my mind about photography. I now find photography to be the most approachable and yet one of the most moving forms of picture art, and without Annie, I would still be skeptical.
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