By Atina Dimitrova
Women’s role in society has always been a significant part of artists’ work. Who can reincarnate women’s power 17 years later once it has been fully exposed by photos? May a year-long tour around the world of photographs conceive new ideas among us? Is it possible to combine the glamour of Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Vogue in a hydraulic power station?
Annie Leibovitz, an American portrait photographer, launched an exhibition in London on the 16th January. The project is entitled “Women: New Portraits” and is a transformation of a public display of 1999. She uses some previous photos and she keeps on adding more. With the aim of uniting the strengths of women with photos, Annie presents an astronaut, farmers, movie stars, a senator and… Queen Elizabeth II. The exhibition will visit nine more cities, among which are Tokyo, Singapore, New York, during the next 12 months.
Caroline Darcy, Head of Sponsorship, Asia Pacific, UBS, said: “The UBS is an exclusive commissioning partner of this exhibition. We engaged Annie to shoot an advertising campaign for us and as an extension of this partnership, she was extremely keen to continue her work on ‘Women’.” The Swiss bank, which owns a vital corporate collection of contemporary art, is in collaboration with Annie for this global tour.
Karen Mulligan, studio manager for Leibovitz, said: “This is a continuation of ”Women” – a book Annie published in 1999 with a series of photographs that were at a subsequent exhibition. UBS has been incredibly supportive for this very creative innovative show.”
This collection is presented at Wapping Hydraulic Power Station on the North bank of the Thames. David Parry, a press photographer for Press Association and Financial Times, one of the few people allowed to take photos at this exhibition with professional tools, outlined: “The industrial background contrasts to the big digital screens here which actually contributes to the effect of the presentation.” Annie’s modern observation on the women’s characteristics through photos only initially contrasts with the location. It shows her perspicacity in terms of how important the background is – the station makes the photos stand out even more. Leibovitz gives us the opportunity with this exhibition to see how profound her impact on Rolling Stone as a chief photographer has been as well as what she was dedicated to for 30 years at Vanity Fair and finally at Vogue. Annie’s works are displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D. C., National Portrait Gallery in London and State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, but only this exhibition is entirely dedicated to women’s nature.
Caroline, Head of Sponsorship, also revealed that on the big digital screens we actually observe Annie’s past work and on the wall there are 22 newly commissioned works of people who Leibovitz was free to choose alone.
Karen, studio manager, explained that “this show will grow with each city” - Annie is currently still expanding the project with more photos... so in Zurich, the last stop of this festival of female virtues, the exhibition will be complete.
Annie openly admitted once: “A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.” Among the women who she dedicated this experience to are Amy Schumer, Sheryl Sandberg, Taylor Swift, Adele, Gloria Steinem and Caitlyn Jenner. An emblematic addition this time is a self-portrait of Annie and her three daughters.
The light coming through the big windows creates a fair of sparks for “the lure of celebrities who are at one and the same place being photographed for a mutual aim” as John Colom-Moreno, a retired man, and a huge admirer of Annie’s work, pointed out. Even from the early hours on the 16th January the station was full of people showing their gratitude towards Leibovitz. Among the three big screens of women’s glorification and the wall of newly presented works there is a talking circle where people of different backgrounds discuss Annie’s ability to reach a sacred intimacy with every subject. In a room next to the main hall there is a collection of books related to Annie’s photographs taken from 1970s now exploring her transition from a photojournalist to a portrait photographer. Leibovitz is an exceptionally talented artist whose venerators struggle to summarize exactly what is unique about her.
Joseph Paxton, a professional sculptor and part of the organization of the event, said: “The strength of her talent is the ability to capture in a very natural way. That is why she is usually not working in a studio environment.”
The first initiator of the project “Women” was Susan Sontag, Annie’s partner. At the exhibition we can also see a small polaroid-style photo of Susan. With this massive extension, Leibovitz revives a personal story too. The “Women” project was entirely in collaboration with the American writer. Now Annie works alone on it since Susan’s death in 2004. Leibovitz understood at the airport taking flight back to Sontag that it was too late for her to say a final “goodbye”. But, as Diane Mariechild once said, “a woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform”, so Annie is strong enough to transform the idea and make it immortal.
Karen, studio manager, also added: “Annie is really engaged with the subject. They feel comfortable with her. She captures them in their environment.” Leibovitz’s true devotion could not be overlooked by Darcy too: “For a particular photo Annie may have spent three days with that person. She is the best in her field. UBS and Annie have shared vision of excellence.”
This parade of womanhood from its scandalous nudity to its legendary pretentious finery is a free event and was in London until the 7th February. A photographer for 45 years, Annie manages to bring women’s finesse to this popular project. This incarnation of the exhibition speaks volumes about the female gender – thanks to appreciating the visual pleasure of these women, we actually explore their human insecurity transformed into self-assuredness.
Author of two novels published in Bulgarian. Photography lover. Journalism student at City University London