A Photographic Journey

On Saturday I traveled to Washington DC to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where Annie Leibovitz’s photography exhibit “Pilgrimage” is on display.

I had read a rather unflattering review of the exhibit in the Washington Post, Objects of Her Projection, and I wanted to check out the exhibit for myself.

Leibovitz has always been a rather controversial figure in photography. She began her career as a photojournalist for Rolling Stone, traveling with rock bands and producing numerous covers and photojournalistic essays. Later, she joined Vanity Fair, where she became “a documentarian of the social landscape.”

                                            

Later Annie published “A Photographer’s Life 1990 – 2005.” This book is a compilation of both personal pictures and professional work. It includes portraits of well-known figures as well as pictures of Leibovitz’s family and friends. It forms a narrative of her life, and ends with the loss of both her partner and father and the birth of her three children.

For more on Annie, watch Life through the Lens.

While portraits have been her trademark, Pilgrimage brings something new. Annie traveled without an agenda to places she could explore, places that meant something to her. She visited the homes of famous people such as Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf. Annie found that she wanted to photograph objects, as well as rooms and landscapes. For Annie, the pilgrimage was an exercise in renewal. “It taught me to see again.”

I went into the exhibit, which is free of portraits, with open eyes. The first thing that hit me is that the images look much better in person than they do in the book. They were brighter with much more visible detail. There is the worn texture of Lincoln’s blood-stained gloves, which he wore on the night he was assassinated, the details of Emily Dickenson’s gown, the hues of Georgia O’Keefe pastels, and the abstract quality of Virginia Woolf’s marred writing desk. I was drawn to the expansive view of Niagara Falls, and the equally expansive panoramic montage of Marian Anderson’s concert gown.

         

Are these works among the best that Annie Leibovitz has done? Who knows? The evaluation of artwork is subjective. Is it worth looking at? Yes. Only an artist can see the textures and details that Annie’s eye saw when she visited these locations and captured the images.

My tip for you is not a Photoshop technique, it is a philosophical one. Get out and visit a gallery and view artwork with your own eyes. Form your own opinion. Have your own photographic pilgrimage. Experiment. Learn to see, and then learn to see again. Who knows where the journey will take you?

Leslie Sinclair

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