Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life hits Atlanta's High Museum of Art

Photography has always been a hobby of mine, and a fascination.  My favorite memories of high school took place not at football games, school dances or underneath the bleachers, but in the dark room mixing chemicals and painting with light. My high school graduation present was even a Nikon camera, since fallen by the wayside in the current days of digital photography.

As a photography—and music!—fan, I have always admired the work of pivotal pop culture facet Annie Leibovitz.  As one of the original photographers for Rolling Stone, Leibovitz created some of the most lasting, iconic rock’n’roll images of all time.  If you can think of John Lennon and not immediately visualize Leibovitz’s controversial RS cover of John and Yoko Ono, well, you are one of very, very few. 

Last year, in addition to her current work for Vogue, Vanity Fair and photographing the Queen, the legendary portrait photographer published a unique collection of her personal and assignment work. To commemorate A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005 Atlanta’s High Museum of Art is playing host—through September 9—to an exhibit of the same name showcasing in person many of Leibovitz’s iconic and intimate photos. The High is the third stop on the tour for this exhibit.

Living up to its title, the display reconciles the photographer’s life, mixing together personal and public photos for one of the most unique and deeply revealing photography exhibits Atlanta has seen in years. As a quote from Leibovitz illustrates, “There is one life and the personal pictures and the assignment work are all part of it.”

For those who attended the “Chorus of Light” Elton John photography collection exhibit back in late 2000/early 2001, the difference is striking.  While the John collection featured many easily recognizable photographs, I left in awe of the beauty, skill and, was simply star struck from seeing such famous photos in person.  “A Photographer’s Life” left me not only start struck, but also in awe of Leibovitz’s life.  Photographs of her family, her daughters and longtime companion, writer Susan Sontag, mix among famous shots of Johnny Depp and Kate Moss, Nicole Kidman, and Jamie Foxx. 

Quotes from Leibovitz embellish some photos, adding context, and, as is the case for her personal photographs, explain who the subjects are. Stories are littered throughout the exhibit, adding color to the mostly black and white personal photographs.  Intimate photographs of a pregnant Demi Moore and Bruce Willis blended well with the intimate moments of Leibovitz’s own life.  The photographs are even shot in a similar manner.  Several assignment photographs feature famous subjects—like Brad Pitt—sprawled across beds while other pictures in the exhibit feature family members in very similar situations. 

As Leibovitz is mostly known as one of the world's greatest portrait photographer's, it was interesting to see photographs of a more spontaneous nature in her personal work.  Also included in the exhibit were several large-format landscape photographs, including some of Monument Valley, Arizona, Wadi Rum, Jordan, and the Gugenheim Musem in Spain. 

Although it's hard to resist the gorgous photographs of the famous, the highlight of the exhibit was a separate room where Leibovitz’s decision process for the book and exhibit was recreated. The small room encompassed smaller proofs of photographs seen hung elsewhere in the exhibit, as well as other shots selected against. 

If you don’t live in Atlanta, never fear! The High will say “Goodbye” to the exhibit on September 9, after which the photographs will continue on to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. through January 13, 2008.  The tour will conclude at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, February 9 – May 11, 2008.  If the exhibit makes its way near you, be sure to have a look for yourself.

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