Girls on Film
Annie Leibovitz has spent her photographic life capturing celebrities on film, including actors, musicians and models. Women, an exhibit of her work that has been touring for almost three years, may be a departure from her usual magazine work. "May be" because, at times, it's hard to separate the personal and intimate from the slick and commercial. A wide range of women is represented, from first ladies to miners, from debutantes to strippers. Some of the photographs seem almost painstakingly calculated (Jerry Hall, dressed to the nines, breast-feeding son Gabriel), while others are more spontaneous snapshots. But this juxtaposition, the balance of dualities, is the energy that drives the exhibit.
Dallas is the final stop on a tour that began in Washington, D.C., and has traveled to New York City, Miami, Phoenix, Seattle and San Francisco. Some of the sitters are well-known, but many are not. In an interview with Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon, Leibovitz says, "There are famous people in the book, but they became less important...Most are role models in some way...it became more about women's self-esteem. It really wasn't trying to be any kind of women's statement, but it became one on its own. Susan [Sontag] said this in her [accompanying] essay: Some stereotypes are kept in place and some are broken." One can't help but notice that many of the subjects are exquisitely photogenic, but it is equally hard to ignore those who are wrinkled, bruised, determined or scarred. Each portrait asks for an interaction, an acknowledgement from the viewer.
These are women on display, literally, but that does not render them passive. As you wander through the three floors of the Women's Museum, viewing the layout designed in part by Leibovitz herself, be prepared for the eyes. These women, for the most part, look directly into the camera; the eyes draw you in with their varied expressions--hopeful, knowing, distrustful, surprised, sad, blank. In her essay, Sontag remarks that, historically, "a man can always be seen. Women are looked at." The power in these portraits is the women who will look right back.
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