Annie Leibovitz’s talents in photography are anything but limited to celebrities. The world-renowned photographer’s latest exhibit at the Wexner Center for the Arts, sponsored by Express, showcases just that. From Rolling Stone to Vanity Fair to everything in between, Leibovitz’s career history is presented in three separate sections that highlight her greatest works.
The first aspect of the show contains her Master Set: “occupying all four galleries…156 images that she selected a few years ago as the definitive edition of her work from 1968 to 2009” (Horrigan 8). This exhibit is the first opportunity to view the Master Set in its entirety, as these 156 images have never before been seen as a whole. Walking through the Master Set is like walking through world history; the white frames against the white walls create an illusion that one is actually looking at the photo take place.
To begin, her pictures of influential music figures range to all different genres. Being the former chief photographer for Rolling Stone,she is most expansive in her selection of rock n’ roll photographs. These photographs entail the one of John Lennon and Yoko Ono taken on the day of Lennon’s assassination as well as a black and white image of Rolling Stonesfans against a fence in Cleveland. Along with rock n’ roll, she includes photographs of hip-hop singers like Mary J. Blige and P-Diddy and pop singers such as Bette Middler. She is a jack-of-all-trades in that her set includes performance, behind-the-scenes, and candid shots as well as staged album covers.
Politics also plays a great role in this exhibit. One of the most powerful photos is the one of Richard Nixon’s plane leaving the White House after his resignation in 1974. This black and white candid is so uncanny because one wonders what made Leibovitz so intrigued by this, because at the time she was a Rolling Stone photographer. Another intriguing political photo is the one of the Bush administration taken during December 2011, three months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The cabinet members all appear with blank, somber expressions, leaving the viewer in awe of why this might be.
From a global standpoint, featured is a bloody bicycle in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War and a blood smeared wall during Rwanda’s Tutsi genocide. These images are so moving in that they embody the principle that death does not have to be portrayed in a vile way; these photos artistically illustrate death.
One of the most compelling parts of the exhibit is a side-by-side comparison of Las Vegas showgirls. Leibovitz juxtaposes four showgirls from Bally’s and the Stardust in full costume next to images of the same three girls in everyday attire. It is captivating in that Leibovitz conveys the paradox of the public eye versus reality.
Along with photos of more famous subjects, Leibovitz includes personal photos. She includes images of her mother, siblings, daughter, and former partner Susan Sontag. These images not only give the exhibit a more personal touch, but also remind viewers that she photographs the lesser known. These photographs demonstrate the importance of these people in her life, as they are placed on a wall next to figures such as Queen Elizabeth II. The incorporation of these photos reminds the viewer to remember that this vast exhibit is all behind the same woman.
The next part of the exhibit, Pilgrimage, is representative of Leibovitz’s desire to praise those who have shaped our culture. Inspired by her and Susan Sontag’s aspiration to create a set of photographs of places they loved, Pilgrimage successfully features images of what powerful individuals have left behind after their deaths. Still-life photographs of Sigmund Freud’s couch, Elvis Presley’s grave, Emily Dickinson’s only existing dress, and much more are displayed in salon-style fashion. The usage of objects as subjects in these images is so powerful that they seem as important as the people they signify.
The final portion of the show serves as a tribute to the Wexner Center. An informal collage of photos push-pinned to the wall line the wall of the lower lobby. These photos incorporate portraits of those whose works have appeared in the Wexner Center such as Maya Lin, Spike Lee, and Twyla Tharp.
Overall, this exhibit does an excellent job of highlighting the many dimensions of Leibovitz’s career. There is a perfect balance between her more popular works such as celebrity photography and her more personal works such as her family and the still-life inspirations in Pilgrimage. Leibovitz’s latest show is a must-see for it is a cultural constellation that everyone can relate to.
Christina Gustovich is a first year student at the Ohio State University. She is a journalism major from Cleveland, Ohio. In her spare time she enjoys reading and traveling.