Thursday, 17 February 2011

Annie Leibovitz A Photographer's Life

I decided to briefly discuss the work Annie Leibovitz produced on Susan Sontag the public intellectual and her parents because again they regard personal photography. The couple shared a close relationship for fifteen years prior to Sontag’s death, only after which reference was made to it not being merely platonic. Although Leibovitz is one of America’s leading photographers apparently Sontag grumbled about the fact that Leibovitz never took photographs of them together, encouraging Leibovitz to take out the camera close to her death. After Sontag’s death Leibovitz published a book called ‘A Photographer’s Life’ in which she included her imagery of Sontag, imagery of her father who died soon after and some selected celebrity images she had taken through her career.
Again I say,  Annie Leibovitz is one of the leading American photographers, however these personal images, for me just don’t work. Leibovitz normally produces images on a grand scale which cost a fortune to produce, it’s what she has built her career on, however when I look at these images, I just cannot recognise the professionalism and experience of the person pressing that shutter button. I completely understand that these are entirely different images as to what she normally produces and I am not making such a comparison. The images are very ‘family album’ like and I find it difficult to imagine had it not been for her celebrity status and that of Susan Sontag that these images would have received any interest. Moreover I believe the interest lies in the fact that we are being exposed to a very personal part of Leibovitz’s life, so much so she says she now regrets how much she revealed. The personal projects to me seem unnecessarily publicised. Furthermore Sontag was a woman recognised for her forceful and intimidating character, even Leibovitz relates how Sontag would have hated to have such images published, so why were they? Leibovitz says the images helped her through her grieving, which is understandable however still this carries no relation as to why she decided to advertise them to the public. The images are personal, snapshots of mediocre quality, snap shots of her family on the beach I find hardly lure the viewer into some sort of past or personal relationship, they are mere snaps, snaps which would not be given a second glance in anyone else’s family album, however snaps which Leibovitz celebrity photographer receives credit for. The photographs have been published in her book, ‘A Photographer’s Life’, to which we also view celebrity images, the style, content and context is too greatly varied. Leibovitz stirred up great controversy with these images because of their content, because of how they represent and expose the vulnerability and reality of Susan Sontag, a woman the public only knew on a professional level. Leibovitz has simply introduced us to another side of Sontag, which we need not know, with photographs we need not see.
Susan Sontag at Petra, Jordan, 1994
The tiny figure we see in the image above is Susan sontag, as avid travellers, the image was taken during one of their trips. Initially Leibovitz says she Sontag stood there to relate the size of the surrounding rock walls however later liked the image because she felt a personal connection to it. Presonally, I see it as a personal snap we'd all take and find it difficulty in romanticising the image into something its not.

 Susan and Sarah, Harbor Island, Bahamas 2002
The above image is snapshot of Sontag on the beach with Leibovitz's daughter Sarah, who she claims Sontag loved dearly. The image is neither powerful nor particularly alluring, it is blatant in its message and offers nothing else, it is what we see and the only element of interest within the image is seeing the vulnerable side of Sontag, because she was famous.

When Leibovitz first met Sontag she seen this collection of smooth pebbles and shells in the room, so when she died she decided to photograph them to represent an end. There is a wonderful emotion behind the image however not one which I can relate to, for not knowing either of the individuals this photograph does not compel any emotion in me.
A simple portait photograph of Susan Sontag.

my parents, peter’s pond beach, wainscott, long island [1992]

My parents with my sisters Paula and Barbara and Paula's son Ross, Peter's Pond Beach, Wainscott, Long Island, 1992.
 The two images above are snapshots of Leibovitz's parents and family on the beach beneath a big stripy beach umbrella. Family album shots which I think, could have been left in the family album to be honest.

Brother Philip and My Father

 My parents with their grandson, Ross, Hedges Lane, Wainscott, Long Island, 1992

Although I have been adverse towards Leibovitz's personal imagery there were a couple photographs she took that I did actually like.

I do like the portrait above of Susan Sontag, this is a photograph which reflects and element of professionalism rather than a holiday snap. The expression on Sontag's serious and somewhat grumpy face is perhaps what we are more likely to associated her with. The image is nicely captured nothing out of this world, nothing like her professional work rather it carries with it a sense of realism and calm which I like. 

I like the personal side of these images and the reflection on suffering we can feel from them. There is
soemthing difficult however in viewing such intimate photographs of someone, exposing their vulnerability with someone they are so close to, and knowing she is dead and unaware of my viewing and what her reaction to me being able to see what I can see would be. I suppose that is an ethical debate really, because shes dead, so does it really matter? and I suppose its that voyeuristic side in us all which draws us to such imagery, particularly when the subject is famous.

Susan at the House on Hedges Lane," 1988
The above image of Sontag is my favourite. The lighting is beautiful and the way she lay on the couch so interesting. I am unaware of her current state and what she is feeling, how she is sprawled out and the way her hands are positioned, is this an image of arousal? or exhaustion?

Finally, the most contraversial of them all, Sontag dead. This image is not to be related to the ones I particularly like, this image is just one on its own. It greatly reminds me of a Victorian image and the eithics behind this image being published seems far too intense for me to dicuss, however there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the publication of this image which is understandable. Again I question, does it matter if she's dead and unaware? Perhaps, however that is a question I do not even have an opinion formed for myself.

Overall my opinion on Leibovitz’s personal work is a negative one. What I can take however from looking into it is to avoid what I dislike about her work. Furthermore people always find their family album far more interesting than anyone else and that is because the images carry with them such value, knowledge and memory, to the rest of us a mere relation of a story. Had it not been for Leibovitz and Sontag’s celebrity status I can’t imagine any interest being given to the images, because they are mere snaps. I intend to be much more aware of what I take, sometimes an image may evoke emotions in you for particular reasons however which will not relate to an outsider. I felt no engagement what so ever towards most of Leibovitz’s images because they were just too personal to her and meant for her alone. Furthermore I intend within my imagery to produce personal images however I hope a sense of intimacy and engagement will develop on the viewers side as well.

1 comment:

  1. I think that the matter of whether or not its ok for those images to be publicized is based on Annie. Her putting those in her book is one thing but for some random person to put them out there in a blog and talk about how they are meaningless is a shitty thing! Those are very intimate pictures. Coming from a non connected point of view on these pictures I personaly LOVE her personal pictures. It shows that she did have a life other then just taking celebrity photograhs. The photo of Susan in the bath is such an amazing photo. It shows the pain of what she went through. I did not know her but if you have ever lost someone you can feel that pain and that love coming from that photo.