Mixing it up—the artistic work and the minute-by-hour-by-day-by-year events of an artist’s life makes perfect sense to the Dresser. Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life, 1990-2005, an exhibition at Washington, DC’s Corcoran Gallery of Art through January 13, 2007, is an extraordinary window into an artist’s life.
WHAT STANDS IN THE ROCKY GAP
For the Dresser, the photograph at the entrance of the show depicting a naked Cindy Crawford—with a large snake hooked around her neck, tail flowing down her chest between her luscious breasts, her right hand languorously holding aloft the snake’s head, her left hand poised at her privates—sums up what Leibovitz has achieved in this collage of what is art and what is the nitty gritty of every day birth-life-death. The subtext of the exhibition is Leibovitz’s nuclear family. Slowly the viewer is eased into the relationship that Leibovitz had with noted novelist, essayist, and critic Susan Sontag. Sontag died December 27, 2004, from a blood cancer. Sandwiched between luminous photos of Demi Moore with pregnant belly and Mark Morris in a worn-out undershirt, stubble on his chin, lips pinching a cigarette stub, ear cuffs curved into one ear, other ear pierced and bejeweled, one eyelid wrinkled with some worry, we are introduced to someone named Susan and then we see a photo of papers that documented the creation of The Volcano Lover.
“OMG,” the Dresser whispered to her husband Jim, “that Susan who looks bedraggled is Susan Sontag.” A little further along in the exhibition, we meet not only generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf with a F11A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter jet, but we also see the totally exposed writer (unnamed) floating in the bathtub of the photographer’s New York apartment. Then comes a stunning photo of Sontag (labeled “Susan Sontag at Petra, Jordan, 1994”), her back toward us standing in a rocky gap that leads to a spectacular white building. For the Dresser, this photo meshes with the one of Crawford. Both exude arresting awe, danger, and monumental sexuality.
So for two artists who kept their relationship unnamed publicly, Leibovitz’s exhibition is surprising but nonetheless emotionally moving. While we are looking up Brad Pit’s leopard-legged crotch (tight designer jeans) and focused on Jamie Foxx’s hand that embraces his be-suited balls (and his rusty red fedora, cocked just so), we are also witnessing a bike spun out in a trail of blood (the blood from a teenage Sarajevan boy who Leibovitz saw killed by a mortar attack as she was on her way to shoot Miss Sarajevo) and a bathroom with bloody footprints after a Tutsi massacre. But no less dramatic is an imposing portrait photo of Leibovitz’s mother who also lets it all hang out for her daughter.
THE ULTIMATE CREATIVITY
By the time the Dresser has seen the politicos (Bush and his insiders, Bill Clinton, Hilary Clinton), the Olympiads, the dancers (including Mikhail Baryshnikov held aloft by Rob Besserer),
Photo by Annie Leibovitz
she was more intent on studying the photographer’s parents who settled in Silver Spring where the Dresser finished high school. The father died of lung cancer (same as the Dresser’s dad) just after the beloved Susan. But then a couple of miracles—twins who would carry the names of those lost—Susan and Samuel and born to a single mother (Leibovitz) over fifty.
This is an ambitious exhibition that also shows how these photos were selected. There are two long walls of snapshots displaying the celebrities versus the family as well as a video. The Dresser says to miss this show is to miss the opportunity to understand the process of an artist’s creativity.
Laura Davies Foley’ poem “The Thaw” creates vibrations in sympathy with those the Dresser felt after experiencing Annie Leibovitz’s: A Photographer’s Life.
Let the April rains come in.
I am a sloping hill with new buds piercing.
I have mothered an unlearning child.
I fear not death but a vacuum of life,
crumpled napkins hiding in corners of a chair,
gum wrappers littering an expanse of floor.
I am an extinct volcano always thought to be stable.
I wake to the heat of lava.
I have no skin.
My hair is gone.
The candle within draws deeper.
by Laura Davies Foley
from Mapping the Fourth Dimension
Copyright © 2007 Laura Davies Foley
Photograph © Annie Leibovitz