Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005

The current offering of Annie Leibovitz's work at the Legion of Honor, is much more than the title implies. The exhibition demonstrates a depth to Leibovitz's work and vision as a photographer that does not rise to the surface in her most popular and better known commercial work.

I've never been fond of Leibovitz's technically polished commercial photographs: the Vanity Fair covers paying homage to various icons of photography, or the celebrity portraits of the American Express ad campaign. Big production budgets can make any photographer look good. But all of that plays a very small part in this stunning exhibit.

One of the deepest impressions I came away with is what an extraordinary documentary photographer Leibovitz actually is. In particular her images of Sarajevo, 1993 and Rwanda, 1994, impact the viewer so that a single image will suffice, the message is clear.

A bicycle on a blood-staned Bosnian road.
(Photographs © Annie Leibovitz from "A Photographers Life" Random House, 2006)

Her black and white work is exceptional and so much richer than the color images in the exhibition. Each image is highly narrative and together say a great deal about Leibovitz's visual sensitivity.

An interesting feature of the exhibition is the display of several panels to which a variety of proof prints are pinned, illustrating the task of editing in the creation of the book A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005. Studying these panels lends some insight into her process and the significance of certain images.

Even more so than the book, this exhibition allows a very intimate look into a complex world through the vision of one of today's most celebrated photographers. There is no pretense and there is no shyness. It is an amazing thing Leibovitz has done. Through images of her family in times of crisis and joy, through images of the suffering of loved ones and strangers, and through portraits of the famous and the unknown, Leibovitz reaffirms the power of photography, and we are indeed moved.

A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005 is on view at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park through May 25th 2008

(Annie Leibovitz in her studio. Photo Credit: Helayne Seidman for The Washington Post)

All photos from

1 comment:

Nancy Ewart said...

There's also a Dorothea Lange exhibit at the SF Public library (Main) which is also superb although not as interestingly mounted as Annie L's exhibit:

A Life Surrounding a Cabin: Dorothea Lange at Steep Ravine