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by lydia vasko
My Brother Philip And My Father (1988) by Annie Leibovtz.
American photographer Annie Leibovitz's retrospective exhibition makes its South-East Asian debut in Singapore.
Her work is mostly seen in the glossy pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair, but visitors to Singapore’s ArtScience Museum can now see celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz’s photographs on a grander scale.
An exhibition titled Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life 1990-2005 is currently on at the museum. The retrospective, which is being shown in Asia for the first time, features close to 200 of her iconic images.
Among the famed pictures going on display is that of a nude, pregnant Demi Moore, which drew controversy when it made the cover of Vanity Fair magazine in 1991.
Other revealing celebrity portraits in the show include those of a young Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Nicole Kidman.
“I don’t have a favourite photograph. It’s the body of work that’s important, and I think I understood this early on,” writes Leibovitz, 64, via e-mail. “When I go to galleries or museums, I like to see retrospectives, a lifetime of an artist’s work. That’s when it becomes really interesting.”
Besides looking back at Leibovitz’s work, the exhibition is also a photographic memoir of a decade and a half of her life.
There are photographs of her with friends and family; and with her long-time partner Susan Sontag, the well-known American writer and intellectual who died of cancer in 2004.
The pictures also document the birth and childhood of her three daughters, as well as the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s. And her camera’s eye preserves the landscapes of Monument Valley in the American West as well as the Jordanian desert’s Wadi Rum.
“I’ve been taking reportage-type pictures my whole life,” says the photographer.
“The photographs of my family and my friends come out of a tradition established by Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson, who were important models to me when I was a student. They’re a sort of relaxed reportage. I don’t think of them as snapshots, although the boundary between snapshots and personal reportage is pretty thin.”
Honor Harger, executive director of the ArtScience Museum, says: “The striking power of Annie’s photographs lies in the fact that they capture the essence of the subject in a unique and visceral fashion.”
Her subjects are diverse and disparate, from celebrities to war-torn countries. Harger notes: “When it comes to her personal life and work, Leibovitz doesn’t separate the two. As Leibovitz states in her publication, Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life 1990-2005, ‘I don’t have two lives. This is one life, and the personal pictures and the assignment work are all part of it.’
“There is no hierarchy – every photograph, from family portraits, photographs of celebrities, landscapes and war photographs, holds equal importance. Walking through the exhibition, visitors will feel like they are on an archaeological dig into Annie’s life.”
First displayed in 2006 at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in the United States, the exhibition has since travelled around the United States and Europe. Singapore is the second of two stops in Asia for the exhibition, after Seoul.
Leibovitz made a name for herself in the 1970s and early 1980s as the chief photographer for music magazine Rolling Stone, before going on to work for Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines.
She shot to fame when her photograph of a naked John Lennon, curled around and kissing his wife Yoko Ono, became the last photograph taken of the Beatles frontman, just five hours before he was assassinated in 1980.
On how her time at Rolling Stone led to her working process of often having elaborate set-ups for portraits (such as an ongoing project to shoot celebrities as various Disney characters), she writes: “I didn’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time with a subject. The photo sessions became more like appointments that I had to have an idea for.” – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network
Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life 1990-2005 is showing at ArtScience Museum in Singapore. It runs daily till Oct 19. Opening times: 10am to 7pm daily. Last admission at 6pm. More info: www.marinabaysands.com/ArtScienceMuseum.
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