Diane Arbus: An interview with Jeff L. Rosenheim and Karan Rinaldo

Katie Guggenheim, Hayward Gallery assistant curator, discusses Arbus’ early photographs with Jeff L. Rosenheim, the curator of diane arbus: in the beginning and Karan Rinaldo, Collections Specialist, Photographs, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

Katie Guggenheim: Jeff, you have curated this exhibition. What can we expect to see?

Jeff L. Rosenheim: Most people know Diane Arbus from her late work, but this exhibition looks at her beginnings. In this exhibition we can see a great artist at work – one of the most provocative picture makers of the period in any medium – and we can see how she started out. It’s extraordinary to see how mature Arbus was when she picked up a camera aged 33 and hit the streets of the city looking for signs of life. She was looking at the world in a pretty special way, and she asked questions that other artists didn’t. Some of those questions were existential: ‘Who am I and how do I become the person I want to be?’ Arbus used photography to explore those questions and she sought out people that she could share that experience with. It is those relationships that are in the pictures. 

 

Karan, you have done a lot of research into the locations and people that Arbus photographed. What are some of the subjects that we can see in these early pictures?

Karan Rinaldo: Arbus spent a lot of time on the streets of New York photographing people: children and women in particular and street characters like the street preacher who features in one of the photographs (Man yelling in Times Square, N.Y.C. 1958). As she found her way and her confidence as an independent photographer she went into different spaces and pursued different ideas. She spent time at Hubert’s Museum in Times Square and at Coney Island, and then she went further into private spaces, such as people’s homes. She photographed inside movie houses, which was not a common practice.

 

When Arbus was making these photographs in the late 1950s and early 1960s what set her apart from her contemporaries?

JR: What distinguishes Arbus’ photographs is not her subject matter, although most people think it is. What most distinguishes it and what makes it so powerful and poignant and emotional is how she worked with the camera – she allowed herself to be implicated in the process. 

Most photographers of her generation and the generation before her – people like Paul Strand,  Walker Evans and Robert Frank (who was a peer) – were very careful to not have any direct interactions with their subjects. Helen Levitt also made pictures on the street but she followed the Henri Cartier-Bresson mode of photography: get in, get out quickly, don’t get hurt. Arbus wanted to get hurt. She wanted that confrontation. 

Arbus was not just an observer, she was an active participant with the subjects in the making of the picture. I believe that as often as she chose her subjects, they chose her and that, psychologically, is extremely interesting. She was patient in a way that almost all of those other photographers were not. For Arbus the experience of engaging with her subjects was what she was looking for. She was not trying to steal a picture. She wanted everyone to know what she was doing. 

 

How and in what ways did she engage with her subjects?

KR: Arbus used the camera as a tool to interact with people. She was interested in engaging them beyond what happened inside the camera. 

JR: She would meet someone in a cafe and make a picture and then the next thing you know is that they are sitting together in an apartment and there is a picture of them there. Arbus is one of the only photographers of her generation who photographed the same individual over a decade-long period.

Photography is a recording medium and a visual art but most often, at least in street photography, it is used as a one-time interaction with a subject. Arbus slows time down and it’s a fascinating thing. I think her photographs make us question what the rules of engagement are and what the camera is for. The other photographers of her generation were making some similar observations but they were hiding – she always accepted the consequences of her actions.

 

Arbus used the camera as a tool to interact with people. She was interested in engaging them beyond what happened inside the camera.
Karan Rinaldo, Collections Specialist, Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

There are several striking examples of people engaging in direct eye contact with Arbus in this exhibition. I’m thinking particularly of the picture of the boy in the crowd. Could you tell us about that photograph?

JR: It’s a picture of a young boy who is rising above people who are seated (Boy above a crowd, N.Y.C. 1957) – that to me suggests that he chose to separate himself from his surroundings and engage with Arbus who was also choosing to separate herself from her crowd, if you will. There is an exchange there. Karan did some great research as to what that event was. 

KR: We know from adjacent frames on the roll of film – where there is another boy holding a pamphlet that says ‘I am American Day’ – that it was a celebration of new US citizens, which is pretty cool, especially in light of our current political climate.  

JR: This picture is about someone whose status is undergoing transformation. It’s a group ceremony to celebrate a new identity. Arbus’ work has always appealed to young people and people who are transforming themselves in different ways through their bodies, their social and sexual preferences, or how they dress. Arbus honours individuals who are in the process of self-transformation. 

KR: Another interesting example is Lady on a bus, N.Y.C. 1957. There’s so much going on there. Photographer and subject are definitely engaging, there is eye contact: an interaction that is undeniable but it’s a bus, it’s probably moving and it’s not crowded: there’s no escaping Arbus here and this woman gives it back, she’s right there with her.

JR: That directional gaze is pretty aggressive. 

 

Arbus honours individuals who are in the process of self-transformation.
Jeff L. Rosenheim, curator of diane arbus: in the beginning

Arbus is best known for her large square format photographs but almost all the photographs in this exhibition were shot on 35mm. Why did Arbus change formats and what was she trying to achieve?

JR: With 35mm you have to put the camera to your eye and it blocks your face and your expression from your subject. It doesn’t block them from you it blocks you from them: the picture-maker from the subject-person. The larger format Rolleiflex was a camera that you look down into, you don’t put it to your eye – so her expression was never really hidden from her subjects. That seemed to be important to her. 

 

Why do you think that Arbus’ work has been so important for people working with moving image?

JR: Filmmaking is a kind of storytelling – there is a narrative, a constructed relationship created by the cinematographer, the director and the actors. Many of Arbus’ subjects are performers and those who are not performers by training are in a kind of drama with her. She is interested in telling stories that are, at times, quite mythological or existential. She’s interested in identity and how you create a character is a question that every filmmaker has to solve. Arbus answers that question over and over in a very poetic way.

 

The small scale of these photographs is quite striking. I think we’ve become much more used to artists working in larger formats.

JR: Yes – one of the distinguishing things about this show is that most of the pictures are no larger than 6 by 9 inches. Artists today are making works that are cinematic in scope, that occupy space in a different physical way. Sadly, we’ve lost intimacy in the art world.

 

This image and main: Installation view of diane arbus: in the beginning at Hayward Gallery, 2019. Photo: Mark Blower

Could you tell me about the ideas behind the design of the exhibition?

JR: We take great pride in the design of this exhibition, which uses individual walls for each work. One of the things that this does is make these small pictures seem very large, and the connection with those subjects also becomes very large and respectful.

As a result of this exhibition design there is no particular sequence or prescribed route that the visitor makes through the show. It’s open ended. You get to choose your own path and the decisions you make implicate you. The curator does not define your experience, you do. Each visitor has to make their own decisions. Psychologically that puts the viewer beside Arbus, choosing and interacting with her subjects on a one to one basis. It’s a powerful design. With most exhibitions the curator pulls the visitor through the show by an invisible string and you’re supposed to see each work in an order defined by the exhibition design. This show does the opposite. It is daunting and you might not see every picture but that’s ok. It is a very liberating thing. 

 

Were most of the photographs in this exhibition printed by Arbus?

JR: Yes. All of the prints in the main body of the show were printed by Arbus. There is a separate gallery that presents her portfolio A box of ten photographs – those prints are posthumous prints made by one of her students, Neil Selkirk, and they are on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum here in London. All of the other pictures are on loan from American collectors and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Most are a gift or promised gift from the Estate of Diane Arbus – the artist’s two daughters – who chose the Met to be the repository for the life’s work of their mother. This is the first show drawn from the Diane Arbus Archive, which has been preserved and catalogued by Karan. The Archive is an amazing resource consisting of negatives, contact sheets, papers, the artist’s library and her collection of work by other artists. 

KR: The papers importantly include her notebooks and appointment books where she made notes on the people she met and on the places she was going. Her writing is terrific and insightful – really just amazing. Some of her words are peppered throughout this exhibition. It’s a wonderful thing to experience her words alongside these images.

 

What does this exhibition reveal about Arbus that will be new to audiences of her work?

JR: If you know Arbus’ photographs but you haven’t seen the early work then you don’t fully know Arbus’ remarkable achievement with the camera. With this exhibition we are adding many pictures to the canon. 

Arbus only worked for around fifteen years but more than half of all the known prints she made are from these first seven years. This work is so mature; all the themes and styles and methods and strategies were already in place. Most exhibitions have excluded these early photographs. The first retrospective of Arbus’ work in 1972 was at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and although the early photographs were included they were not published in the catalogue. In a certain sense that was volume two and we have finally created volume one. 

 

This exhibition is organised by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

 


 

diane arbus: in the beginning at Hayward Gallery runs 13 February – 6 May 2019

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14 of our top instagram highlights from 2018

It’s been quite a year at Southbank Centre; from the reemergence of our brutalist venues to the 25th Meltdown, via some epic Hayward Gallery exhibitions and visits from new royalty and a former first lady. So as we approach 2018’s end we thought we’d take a look back at the past twelve months through some of our favourite Instagram photos.

What do you do when the artworks are too big to fit in the lift? In January we discovered the solution involved a pretty huge crane, as our instal team prepared for Hayward Gallery’s reopening exhibition of the photography of Andreas Gursky.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Southbank Centre (@southbankcentre) on

 

WOW (Women of the World) is always a big hit at Southbank Centre, and in March we welcomed writers Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Reni Eddo-Lodge (pictured here backstage) for a particularly fascinating Royal Festival Hall talk.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Southbank Centre (@southbankcentre) on

 

In April we said hello again to Queen Elizabeth Hall after three years of renovations and refurbs to restore the venue’s original iconic concrete, and the distinctive auditorium seating.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Southbank Centre (@southbankcentre) on

 

The summer of 2018 seemed to go on forever; from May through to September our garden and terraces were regularly packed with Londoners making the most of the spectacular sunshine.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Southbank Centre (@southbankcentre) on

 

This year saw the 25th anniversary of Meltdown, with curator Robert Smith delivering a fitting silver anniversary edition of the festival. This fantastic shot of The Cure frontman was taken by Andy Vella up on the roof of Royal Festival Hall.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Southbank Centre (@southbankcentre) on

 

In July we celebrated the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela with a special exhibition in Queen Elizabeth Hall, that even enticed The Duke and Duchess of Sussex along to Southbank Centre.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Southbank Centre (@southbankcentre) on

 

When we weren’t outside soaking up the summer sun, we were enjoying some incredible performances indoors, including the incredible acrobatics and physical theatre of Backbone, who appeared here in August.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Southbank Centre (@southbankcentre) on

 

Well-loved regulars at Southbank Centre, the energetic young performers of Kinetika Bloco were back in the summer of 2018 with a celebration of New Orleans jazz.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Southbank Centre (@southbankcentre) on

 

The reopening and refurbishment of Queen Elizabeth Hall has opened up some new spaces and opportunities for our programme in 2018. One such new addition is our new club night Concrete Lates, which drew crowds to the Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer Space until the early hours.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Southbank Centre (@southbankcentre) on

 

Unlimited returned in September shining a light on extraordinary work by disabled artists. This shot is from behind the scenes of the festival’s striking publicity shoot, featuring members of The House of Krip, a deaf and disabled collective of vogue ball performers.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Southbank Centre (@southbankcentre) on

 

September also saw the annual Koestler Trust exhibition return to Royal Festival Hall, showcasing the artwork of prisoners and detainees, including these paper superheroes.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Southbank Centre (@southbankcentre) on

 

The striking architecture of Southbank Centre continues to entice photographers onto our site. Among the many fantastic photos that caught our eye in 2018 was this one by Rory Gardiner, featuring Hayward Gallery.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Southbank Centre (@southbankcentre) on

 

The undeniable hottest tickets in town this year were for Michelle Obama’s appearance at Royal Festival Hall in early December. Around 50,000 people tried to get tickets to see her discussing her memoir Becoming, with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Southbank Centre (@southbankcentre) on

 

A big hit on our Instagram this year has been some of the photos we’ve unearthed from Southbank Centre’s archive so it seems only right to finish on such picture; from the archives of The Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation it’s an incredible shot of the Royal Festival Hall’s restaurant shortly after its 1951 opening. Check out those Robin Day chairs!

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Southbank Centre (@southbankcentre) on

 

Keep up with what’s happening at Southbank Centre, and get a glimpse into our venues’ unique past by following us on Instagram.

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Space Shifters: Your Instagram images from 'the most Instagrammable exhibition'

‘Is this the year’s most Instagrammable exhibition?’ asked Hettie Judah in her review of our new Hayward Gallery show, Space Shifters, for the i. Two weeks in, and with our Instagram notifications pinging away like an office microwave at lunchtime, there certainly seems to be a strong argument for answering Judah’s question in the affirmative.

Bringing together the work of 20 different artists, Space Shifters features innovative, minimalist sculpture from the 1960s, as well as recent works that extend the legacy of this ‘optical’ minimalism in different ways, and a number of commissions which have been made in response to the architecture of the Hayward Gallery. With many of the artworks constructed from translucent or reflective materials - enabling us to see our surroundings in new and unexpected ways - it’s not hard to see why so many people visiting the exhibition have been reaching for their smartphones to capture their experience.

So, instead of sharing more of our own images of this remarkable exhibition, we thought why not let you convey its appeal for us? Here, for your visual enjoyment, are some of our favourites from your Instagram images of Space Shifters so far.

 

Fred Eversley Untitled (Parabolic Lens) (1971)

The violet, amber and blue Untitled (Parabolic Lens) (1971) was made by Aerospace engineer turned artist, Eversley, using a repurposed turntable originally used by the American military.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by 〰 Silvia 〰 (@silvia.giu) on

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Danielle C (@dscseventytwo) on

 

Ann Veronica Janssens Magic Mirrors (Pink #2 and Blue) (2013-2017)

Janssens's Magic Mirrors (Pink #2 and Blue) consist of shattered panes of 'safety glass' held between sheets of intact glass. A filter between the panes allows light to pass through the panes selectively, with the result that the light they cast and the reflections on their surfaces are different to what we expect.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by @faspinos on

 

Anish Kapoor Sky Mirror, Blue (2016)

Situated on one of Hayward Gallery's outdoor sculpture terraces, this concave mirror achieves the contradictory feat of bringing the sky down to the ground.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Studio Luca Bombassei (@studio_luca_bombassei) on

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Monika Sosnowska Handrail (2016-18)

Sosnowska’s Handrail (2016–18) is first encountered by the visitor two-thirds of the way up Hayward Gallery’s back staircase, where it wraps itself, vine-like, around the existing rail before taking off across the gallery wall in an energetic dance.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by markus (@kussmark) on

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by 〰 Silvia 〰 (@silvia.giu) on

 

Richard Wilson 20:50 (1987)

For this installation, first presented in Matt’s Gallery, London, Wilson floods an entire room with used engine oil, leaving only a narrow passageway through the centre.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Tara (@tazanna) on

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Dean Johnson (@deanjohnson0308) on

 

Jeppe Hein 360° Illusion V (2018)

For 360° Illusion V (2018), Hein placed two large mirrored panels at right-angles to one another. As well as reflecting the surrounding environment, each mirror also reflects its twin.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by F•/L•\p (@the.f.name) on

 

Felix Gonzalez-Torres "Untitled" (Golden) (1995)

Exhibited floor-to-ceiling, Gonzalez-Torres’s "Untitled" (Golden) creates a shimmering threshold through which every visitor must pass.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Stuart Carter (@stu_pc) on

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by @faspinos on

 

Alicja Kwade WeltenLinie (2017)

In WeltenLinie, Kwade creates the impression of sudden and surprising material transformations through the use of double-sided mirrors and the careful placement of objects.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Karel (@karel.kies) on

 

Yayoi Kusama, Narcissus Garden (1966-2018)

First staged as a large-scale, unofficial intervention at the 1966 Venice Biennale, Narcissus Garden (1966–2018), consists of hundreds of stainless steel reflective orbs.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Studio Luca Bombassei (@studio_luca_bombassei) on

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Vasko Stefano (@vaskostefano) on

 

Space Shifters was at Hayward Gallery from 26 September ,2018 until 6 January, 2019. 

From internationally acclaimed artists at Hayward Gallery, to pop-up installations, showcases and immersive experiences, an engaging and inspiring array of art and exhibitions can be found across Southbank Centre.

current & upcoming exhibitions

 

Tokyo by Andreas Gursky

Over the course of more than 30 years – almost the entirety of his career – Gursky has argued that purely documentary styles of representation are no match for the world’s complexity. ‘Reality can only be shown by constructing it’, he claims, and ‘montage and manipulation’ paradoxically bring us ‘closer to the truth’.

Andreas Gursky, Tokyo (2017)
Copyright: Andreas Gursky/DACS, 2017 Courtesy: Sprüth Magers

The artist began working with digital post-production in 1992, often using computer software to edit and combine shots taken with a film camera. As well as combining multiple different images to make a single work, he also uses editing software to remove, add or emphasise certain elements of his compositions.

Recently, Gursky has described the relationship between construction, documentation and authenticity in his work as similar to the way that we might recall a landscape glimpsed from a moving vehicle: ‘You look out of the window and get an impression, but when you write it down it will be what you imagine’, he explains.

This image of a Tokyo neighbourhood is constructed from the details of dozens of individual shots taken from the window of a high-speed train. While the foreground of this image is predictably out of focus, Gursky has also inserted blurry passages in the middle of the picture, prompting us to question what we are seeing and to look again.

more on the Gursky exhibition  

Pyongyang VI by Andreas Gursky

Following his image of a crowd of traders on the trading floor in Tokyo, Stock Exchange (1990), Gursky has continued to capture crowds at work and at play, not least in his May Day series (1997–2006), which depicts an annual rave that takes place in Dortmund, Germany. 

Andreas Gursky, Pyongyang VI , 2007/17
Copyright: Andreas Gursky/DACS, 2017 Courtesy: Sprüth Magers

In Pyongyang VI (2007/17), Gursky turns his attention to a very different kind of collective activity. The Arirang Festival, or Mass Games, is a vast gymnastic and artistic event that takes place in North Korea’s capital city Pyongyang.

The Games are held each year in honour of the previous dictator, Kim Il-sung. Gursky photographed the event – which features around 100,000 people including 70,000 gymnasts and over 30,000 school children – from an elevated altar dedicated to Kim Jong-il, in 2007.

The artist has recently returned to the subject, and reviewed previously unpublished material, due to the current political situation in North Korea.

more on the Gursky exhibition

Utah by Andreas Gursky

This vast, cinematic work was inspired by a photograph that the artist took on his phone through the window of a moving car. It depicts a paradoxically ‘wild’ but mediated landscape that has provided the backdrop for science fiction films, westerns and road movies.

Utah (2017)
Copyright: Andreas Gursky/DACS, 2017 Courtesy: Sprüth Magers

The apparent spontaneity of the image, its out-of-focus passages and odd glitches, sets it apart from almost all of Gursky’s previous work. With Utah (2017) Gursky has fashioned a monumental homage to the mobile phone photo – casual, immediate, disposable – and the outsized role it plays in today’s visual culture.

Utah is one of eight new works by Andreas Gursky that are on display for the first time.

more on the Gursky exhibition 

Klausen Pass by Andreas Gursky

During the 1980s, while studying at the Düsseldorf Art Academy under Bernd and Hilla Becher, Gursky made a series of photographs of people engaged in leisure activities in and around Düsseldorf. Many of these early works explore the relationship of human beings to their environment, and the way that the landscape has been altered or controlled by its human inhabitants.

Klausen Pass_blog post use

The figures in these early works often appear at odds with their environment, dwarfed by the structures – natural or man-made – that they find themselves beside. 

This is the case in Klausen Pass (1984), an image that the artist took at the request of a friend during a journey through the Swiss Alps. The figures in this image are arranged in what Gursky describes as a ‘perfect constellation’ across a hillside – a fact that the artist only noticed when he enlarged the negative, long after the photograph was taken. With Klausen Pass, Gursky discovered how he could use a distanced perspective to explore the relationship between human beings and their environment.

Gursky exhibition page

Salerno I by Andreas Gursky

In the 1990s, Gursky began to photograph the built environment, turning his attention to labour, scenes of industry and to large-scale environments or structures that he refers to as ‘aggregate states’ – a whole made up of repeating elements. Salerno I (1990) – which captures a busy harbour basin in an Italian port town – is a pivotal image for the artist.

Salerno I by Andreas Gursky

As he explains: ‘Salerno represented a change in direction. The thematic and completely straightforward moment’ was replaced with a ‘more abstract point of view.’ This abstraction is achieved by technical means: ‘By retreating further back from the subject and using a light, telephoto lens, the image composition becomes flatter, foreground and background merge into a single entity’. To the artist, this perspective is ‘democratic’: each element of the image is given equal importance.

Gursky exhibition page

The 2017 World Press Photo Exhibition returns to Southbank Centre

The 2017 World Press Photo Exhibition returns to Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall for the 21st year from 3–20 November 2017 . The free exhibition brings together 152 winning photographs from the annual World Press Photo Awards, showcasing some of the most powerful, emotional and often disturbing press images of the year.

In its 60th year, the World Press Photo Awards continues to be the premier annual international competition for press photography and multimedia storytelling. This year’s winners were drawn from a bank of 80,408 images taken by 5,034 photographers from 125 countries. The exhibition at Southbank Centre will be the only display in England, however the winning photographs travel together to 45 countries and are seen by more than four million people each year. The subjects of the images on display are widely varied including documentation from rallies protesting police brutality, reports from war-torn terrains and striking images selected from nature and sports editorial.

Read the full press release

Annie Leibovitz on Women

On Sunday 22 October Annie Leibovitz joins us at Southbank Centre to discuss her new work Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005-2016, as part of London Literature Festival. Ahead of her appearance here we take a moment to look at her previous work on Women, a project Leibovitz has taken to view as being forever incomplete.


 

In 1999 Annie Leibovitz, in collaboration with partner Susan Sontag, put together Women, a collection of female portrait photography, to acknowledge and celebrate the status, the achievements, and the roles of women at the end of the 20th Century.

The subject of the photographs, taken especially for the book, occupy a broad spectrum. They include farmers, coal miners, showgirls, movie stars, a surgeon, a general, a rap artist and the secretary of state. Individual photographs, which carry a collective message, as Sontag explained in the book’s accompanying essay.

Each of these pictures must stand on its own. But the ensemble says, So this what women are now - as different, as varied, as heroic, as forlorn, as conventional, as unconventional as this.
Susan Sontag, Women, 1999

However, despite receiving significant and just acclaim, it was a project which the Leibovitz felt should never stand still. ‘It really resonated’ she told New York Times in 2016, but ‘the project was never done.’ This sense of the project as being open-ended, something of a starting point with no determinable end, is perhaps inevitable, given Leibovitz’ own oft-quoted admission that she is never not a photographer.

One doesn’t stop seeing. One doesn’t stop framing. It doesn’t turn off and turn on. It’s on all the time.
Annie Leibovitz

And so, seventeen years on, came a continuation to that initial project, Women: New Portraits, an exhibition featuring a whole new collection of portraits for a whole new generation of women. Celebrities, CEOs, activists, even Queen Elizabeth II herself are committed to canvas by Leibovitz as she continues to chart the changing notion of what it is to be a woman.

This time, that sense of fluidity, of a work never finished was brought more keenly to the fore, as Leibovitz took the exhibition around the globe, and continued to expand it with every stop. In all Women: New Portraits visited ten cities, from San Francisco to Singapore, with Leibovitz photographing prominent women from each one, cementing the idea of a work in progress and brilliantly fusing the old with the new.

You can’t look at all those images without seeing the true human diversity of women, not characterised by whatever feminine idea or roles of who we’re supposed to be.
Gloria Steinem, journalist and activist, who assisted Leibovitz with Women: New Portraits

To drop convention and further bring women, and the female voice, to the fore Women: New Portraits was hosted not in museums or galleries, but in historically rich pop-up sites - such as Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, London, and the former Bayview Correctional Facility, New York. Here the audience was invited to join Leibovitz and activist Gloria Steinem, who assisted in compiling the exhibition, in ‘talking circles’ on their experiences, conversations which ranged from sexual violence against women in Mexico City to the experience of women in San Francisco’s tech industry.

"WOMEN: New Portraits" – A look behind the lens: Zurich

When the initial book, Women, was conceived its aim was, as Sontag explained, to defy the tradition of photographing women for their beauty rather than their character. With Women: New Portraits that notion, though not lost, had advanced. ‘The imagery of women has to catch up with the imagery of men,’ Leibovitz told New York Times ahead of the exhibition’s showing in Manhattan. Though the exhibition’s tours are now over, you sense the project will remain alive so long as we have Leibovitz.


 

Annie Leibovitz comes to Southbank Centre on Sunday 22 October, to discuss her new work Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005-2016, as part of London Literature Festival.

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