Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Pilgrimage of Annie Leibovitz...

   I would never have refered to Annie Leibovitz as a contemplative photographer. Her amazing and technically slick portraits of the rich and famous, the privileged 1%, have graced the covers of magazines for decades. Accomplished commercial photographer yes, contemplative photographer, a most resounding NO...well, maybe...

    I recently visited her exhibition at the Concord Museum entitled "Pilgrimage".  Here was a woman who, for many reasons, turned to contemplative photography as a way to rebuild and nourish her artistic soul.  I'm not sure she would use that label herself  but I found that the images she produced during her pilgrimage have all the metaphoric qualities of a contemplative photograph.  In fact, I can think of no more profound and evocative example of the power of the contemplative image to link us to the essential question of self-exploration than  the  Leibovitz's series simply because it is such a huge departure from what she is known for...what she has built her entire career on.  She turned her back on what had made her famous, as many past pilgrims have done, and went on an extended pilgrimage across America and England.  While some images, such as Georgia O'Keeffe's pastel box and Marian Anderson's dress, were truly stunning photographs, some are significant, I suspect, only because Leibovitz made them.  Celebrity, as everyone of us in the 99% category understands, has it's privilege.
Portrait of Annie Leibovitz
   "I needed to save myself...I needed to remind myself of what I like to do, what I can do..."
                                       - Annie Leibovitz

Emily Dickinson - Annie Leibovitz
   The importance of this exhibit for me is that it demonstrates the role contemplative photography can play for people striving to understand themselves and what motivates their lives and their work.  In many ways, "Pilgrimage" is a provocative self-portrait and a tantalizing peek into the heart of a talented yet unapproachable legend of the contemporary art world.  She seemed much more real, more humanly accessible to me after I left the exhibition. It also got me wondering what photographs I would include in a like exhibition...what are my personal icons? I visited Orchard House, the home of Louisa May Alcott, after I left the exhibit and saw two of the "icons" she had photographed. One, a little sofa with three dolls on it, I was told was reupholstered by Leibovitz because she didn't like the way it looked.  Again, the "celebrity thing".   It also made me wonder about her process during this project...how much her need to "control" the outcome, as she does in the portraits she makes in her studio, played into it.  In the end, however, the work speaks for itself and it was a pleasure to wander the galleries looking at this woman's journey to re-discover her artistic roots.
    The exhibition at the Concord Museum is open through September 23, 2012.  It is the only New England venue for "Pilgrimage".   After it closes, the exhibit  itself will begin a "pilgrimage" across America.  Try to see it if you can.  It is strikingly thought-provoking, especially if you know Leibovitz's past work, and it is a call to the contemplative photographer in all of us. 


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