When an exhibit of Annie Liebowvitz’s photo-portraits of women from all walks of life opened in New York last week, it was supposed to be a celebratory event. The photographer explained that the imagery of women has to catch up with all the imagery of men. But she conceded that Trump’s triumph over Hillary cast “a bit of a shadow” on the occasion. "This is not how we imagined this week would turn out," she told the press. Instead she called it “sobering.”
A penny for your thoughts
A photograph of Hillary when she was Secretary of State is in the show, but Liebowvitz, known for capturing the inwardness of her subjects, doesn’t reflect that. She intended the image to speak to Hillary’s belief in perseverance. But she looks to be more in a dream-state than determined; which may be eerily prophetic. On Oct. 6, a month before the presidential election, Liebowvitz was quoted saying she expected to photograph Hillary at the Whitehouse because “this is her time.” As it turned out, that was a fantasy.
What gets you up in the morning?
Given that Liebowvitz is known to dislikes the word “celebrity" and more interested in what women do than who they are, her portrait of Hillary falls short. But her image of Gloria Steinem doesn’t. What you see is the famed feminist sitting at her very untidy desk strewn with papers, surrounded – make that enveloped - cocoon-like by books and magazines beneath a crammed bulletin board. The image makes clear that Steinem is a busy writer.
Behind the facade
Liebowvitz’s avowed aim to know a woman’s personal story before taking her picture doesn’t always serve the viewer. Her portrait of Whoopi Goldberg immersed in a bath of milk certainly indicates the comedian’s personal story of her girlhood when she tried to bleach her skin white. But unless the viewer knows Whoopi’s back story, the point of seeing her dunked in milk is lost.
There’s no there there
All that said, Liebowvitz’s pictures tell an important story about women that everyone can appreciate – their progress. The photographer started portraying women in the late ‘90s and through the years noticed that women looked more confident. You can spot this if you compare Liebowvitz’s early portrait of Hillary when she was First Lady with the later one of her as Secretary of State. As First Lady, she’s in a formal pose in formal clothes set on a straight-back chair and wearing a toothpaste smile.
This story may not be over
But in the portrait of Hillary as Secretary State, she looks relaxed, staring off into her own thoughts. Perhaps, in the end, this image is the one that defines her – dreaming a dream that won’t come true. But wait, Liebowvitz isn’t done with her. Photographing women is like photographing the ocean, she told the press. So maybe we’ll get to see Hillary persevere yet. #Hillary Clinton #Art