Women's Work is a collaborative project by Courtney Borresen, Peter Bull, Claire Concannon, Nina Coyle, Jessica Greenberg, Ben Haist, Nicole Harvey, Zachary Press, Elizabeth Sankey, Hannah Sonnier, Bayley Sprowl and Zari Williams-Yee.

This web page is an assignment for Foundations of Art: Photography, a course taught by Stephen Hilger at Tulane University.

8th December 2009

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Annie Leibovitz

When you think of women in photography, the name Annie Leibovitz will undoubtedly come up.  Unfortunately, now when you think of massive loans and archives of photos as collateral, her name will also come up.  In order to secure a loan to cover debts of $24 million, Leibovitz has basically pawned the copyrights to her entire catalogue of photographs- and what a catalogue it is.

Annie Leibovitz, John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Some of Leibovitz’s most well-known and iconic photographs are included in “Photographs Annie Leibovitz 1970-1990”.  One prominent photograph is the Rolling Stone cover featuring John Lennon and Yoko Ono taken on the day of Lennon’s death.  The picture is so intriguing because of their pose; Lennon is nude while Yoko Ono is fully clothed and he is both embracing and kissing her. It is quite a vulnerable and somehow romantic scene.  There is a certain power Yoko Ono seems to possess because she is clothed, whereas Lennon looks more exposed and powerless without his clothes, which could be indicative of the role each one played in their relationship.  Though Leibovitz’s original intention was for them to both be nude, I think that Yoko Ono being fully clothed really adds something unique to the photo and gives the viewer more to think about upon viewing it.

Annie Leibovitz, Andy Warhol

The portrait of Andy Warhol is another intriguing work of Leibovitz. He is seen holding a camera, as if he were photographing her (or the viewer).  This set-up is interesting not only because this is not a common style of portrait, but also because Warhol is usually the one making art out of other celebrities or people.  While he is the subject now, at the same time, it is as if he is still in his usual position due to the fact that he is holding a camera.

Annie Leibovitz, Clint Eastwood

Annie Leibovitz’s portrayal of Clint Eastwood is very enticing, both in terms of aesthetics and thought behind it.  Due to his tendencies to play rough, edgy men in a lot of his films, Leibovitz chose a western scene as the background. It adds a lot of character to the picture, and even if you are not familiar with Clint Eastwood, chances are you could guess a lot about him from this photo.  The pseudo-smoke created by the dust conveys action and the ropes tying him up make it seem like a scene from a film.  All together, these elements create a fantastic depiction of Eastwood.

Annie Leibovitz, Whoopi Goldberg

Last, but not least, Leibovitz’s portrait of Whoopi Goldberg in a bathtub is a potentially controversial, but certainly incredible photograph.  Annie highlighted Goldberg’s African-American race by posing her in a tub full of white milk. The juxtaposition of the light and the dark lead the viewer to think about race, when they might not under normal circumstances.  Whoopi Goldberg is very active in this picture, with her comical countenance and playful body language, which makes sense; she is most famous for her comedy and willingness to push boundaries.  Another interesting aspect is that although Whoopi is presumed to be naked under the milk, there is nothing remotely sexual about the picture. It is strictly a creative representation of Goldberg and her place in the entertainment industry. In life, Whoopi does not exude sexuality, so it is natural that Annie Leibovitz set up the shot to simply convey the facets of Goldberg’s being that she chooses to expose.

It is a shame that the mind that takes such brilliant photographs does not have the same brilliance when it comes to managing money. Leibovitz’s talents have allowed her to make a seven-figure salary from Vanity and tens of thousands of dollars per day for other shoots, yet it is unclear exactly where all this money has gone.  One thing is for sure, though: regardless of whether the financial issues work out, Annie Leibovitz will be remembered for exceptional photographs, not her exceptional debt.

- - Courtney Borresen

For further reading, see "For Annie Leibovitz, A Fuzzy Financial Picture," in The New York Times.

8th December 2009

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Diane Arbus - Magazine Work

Diane Arbus, Mrs. T. Charlton Henry, fashion luminary, in her Chestnut Hill home in Philadelphia, Harper’s Bazaar, July 1965

Famous for her harsh “documentary eye” and her unique ability to make the normal seem callous, Diane Arbus began her body of work at a very young age.  Arbus married Allan Arbus at just 18; they began producing photos together, at first for “the family business” and then progressed to working for Harper’s Bazaar.  In his 1972 article in Time, Robert Hughes described Arbus as saying “What I’m trying to describe, is that it’s impossible to get out of your skin into somebody else’s.  And that’s what all this is a little bit about.  That somebody else’s tragedy is not your own.”  This quotation perfectly describes the unique yet hard to place quality found even in her earliest of work.

While Arbus is known for her soul shaking portraits, she started her career as a fashion photographer for magazines.  These photos, although being beautiful as magazine photos are expected to be, packed a meaningful punch.  Arbus began studying photography under Lissete Model in 1959, meaning she had a career for 18 years in working for magazines before she started technically and artistically perfecting the awkward, flat, and completely groundbreaking artistic work that she is so well known for today.

In the forward of Magazine Work, Arbus’ daughter Doon writes that “if the nature of her assignments she was given sometimes compelled her to publish pictures that failed to measure up to her own standards, they also helped extend her range by forcing her to adopt or invent new techniques to fulfill the task.” Arbus’ early professional career was in fact her developing her own rhythm before she began to study under others.  She first and foremost made a career for herself and then developed her style.

Diane Arbus, Argentine Poet Jorge Luis Borges in New York’s Central Park, Harper’s Bazaar, March 1969

It is in her Magazine Work portraiture that one can truly see her unique style and identify it.  Her portrait of Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges shows how her lens can transform even the most public of figures.  While in her later private work she took pleasure in photographing the “normal” citizens of America, for Harper’s Bazaar she was forced to fulfill a few guidelines.  Even so, in the portrait of the famous Argentine, she manages to turn a simple scene of a man standing upright with his cane into a mesmerizing and perhaps unsettling frame from which it is hard to break one’s gaze.

Diane Arbus, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, eleventh-generation Americans and renowned film stars of Orphans of the Storm and Way Down East, Harper’s Bazaar, April 1964

It can be argued that the power of Arbus’ work lies in her subjects’ eyes, but it must be noted that she does not create the atmosphere in which she shoots, she merely captures it.  She chooses her subject and usually photographs them in a place where they are most comfortable, often their own home.  For the 1964 series “Affinities” in Harper’s she photographed sisters Lillian and Dorothy Gish.  One can notice how she captures the connection between the two and yet still manages to uncover that eerie undertone for which she is recognized.  Possibly it is the discomfort of the sisters of standing in the snow that creates the feeling that one needs to hold his or her breath while looking at the picture.

Diane Arbus, Charles Atlas, who was crowned “World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man” in 1922 by Physical Culture magazine, at his Palm Beach Home, Sunday Times Magazine (London), October 19, 1969

In terms of her subject matter, her portrait of “the World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man,” Charles Atlas, demonstrates her desired effect of shooting in the home of her subjects.  Not only do his skin tone and almost has-been physique provide clues as to what makes the portraits so compositionally satisfying, but his bodybuilder poses add to the effect as well.  The juxtaposition of such a man in his finely decorated home makes for very interesting pictures.

The obviously dated decorum in most of her pictures does not detract from the authenticity, it merely adds a staleness to her work that grows as time passes by and magnifies the peculiar undercurrent associated with both her Magazine Work and later her private ventures.

- - Elizabeth Sankey