Annie Liebovitz's Women
After reading a book on various feminist philosophies, I evaluated Annie Liebovitz's book and collection of photographs entitled Women according to my interpretation of feminist philosophy, then used this aesthetic impression to evaluate the efficacy of feminist theories as they apply toward evaluating and understanding art.
“A photograph is not an opinion. Or is it?” So begins Susan Sontag's introductory essay to the book Women, a collection of photographs by Annie Leibovitz. Collected without a stated intention other than to treat on the subject matter at hand, Leibovitz’s images confront a wide spectrum of issues surrounding women living in America at the end of the twentieth century. Sontag explains, “Any large-scale picturing of women belongs to the ongoing story of how women are presented, and how they are invited to think of themselves (20).”
Leibovitz photographs women of remarkable accomplishment: senators, supreme court justices, astronauts, athletes, opera singers, firefighters, a philanthropist maid, basketball stars, movie stars, elementary school teachers, weightlifters, and performance artists, as well as those who happen to fall in the viewfinder, sitting in the back of a pickup truck playing with Barbie dolls, or seeking shelter from domestic abuse at the local YMCA. Viewing this seemingly objective portrayal of women, we must consider the statements being made. Carol Duncan, in her essay “The MoMA’s Hot Mamas,” describes the modern art museum and a vast array of modern art in general as “a ritual of male transcendence, if we see it as organized around male fears, fantasies, and desires (118).” One might assume that Leibovitz, a respected and established photographer, might take care with her portrayal of other women, such that their complex psyches can be revealed through a physical presentation medium so often used instead to objectify or sexualize the female body.
Of particular concern are the women who are celebrated and glamorized as successful and well-educated artists, actresses, and celebrities. We are so familiar with slick, glossy photographs of women such as Nicole Kidman, Drew Barrymore, rapper Lil’ Kim, or young actress Christina Ricci, that at first glance these portraits are far more celebratory, depicting the women in thoughtful, atmospheric lighting, perfect makeup and hair, beautiful clothing, and carefully-framed shots. It is very clear - these are not tabloid photos, but instead artistic portraits, to be viewed as such. The complication arises when we consider what statement Leibovitz is making about the real nature of their careers, however, as seen in a careful evaluation of the postures and presentations of these “powerful” and “successful” women.
Drew Barrymore is wearing a gauzy flesh-colored dress, splayed out on a patch of ultra-green filtered grass. Her face is turned away from us, almost unrecognizable, looking downward and over her shoulder, her arms...