Annie Leibovitz exhibit at the MCA

I spent a couple of hours today taking in Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life 1990 – 2005. This exhibit of works by the world-famous photographer (if you think you don’t know her photographs, you’re wrong) is at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and will be there until the end of April.

I was initially disappointed that little of Annie’s iconic early work was there: none of the rock ‘n’ roll imagery from Rolling Stone, for instance. But those are pretty familiar. And this was, in some ways, a more personal exhibit. Yes, there were plenty of the Vanity Fair images, plenty of the portraiture of the great and the good. But there were also a lot of family photos: beach vacations, Annie’s parents and kids, and a large number of photos of Susan Sontag.

These last were quite touching. I’d forgotten that Leibovitz and Sontag had such a close, long-lasting relationship. Perhaps that’s because the two never admitted to it being a love affair until after Sontag’s death.

The photos were all great, of course. The way she puts celebrities at ease in photo setups is obvious. Her imagery of bloodshed in places like Sarajevo and Rwanda were incredibly emotional.  The way she captures people gives them all dignity, even when they’re being silly.

There was an extremely bittersweet feeling to the entire show, though, because it’s common knowledge that Leibovitz – despite being one of the most famous photographers in the world – is in extreme financial hardship after years of mismanagement and personal tragedy. Getting some cash flow is why this photo exhibit – collected when she was producing a book with the same name as the show – has been touring. Obviously most artists do these things to earn a living. But the desperation made me feel a bit sad.

It’s a great show, though, and worth the $15 to see. Even if you go on a weekend, without booked tickets, you can get in with about 10 minutes’ wait.

My favourite photo from the exhibit, a very intense Daniel Day Lewis. Click to embiggen


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