Discuss a picture by Leibovitz

Discussion in 'Discussing a ****** Photograph' started by Flotsam, Oct 10, 2006.

  1. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

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    This Annie Leibovitz photograph was used on the 12" LP liner on one of Lennon's albums. I am an admirer of Lennon but I was so taken by this photograph that I matted and framed it and it has hung on my wall for more years than I can recall.

    I am not really interested in Leibovitz as a photographer. I am just wondering what others think of this particular picture as a photograph and also as a portrait.
     

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  2. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I never really cared much for Liebovitz from when I wrote that Ansel Liebovitz parody a couple of years ago. I think she's a photographer who works by committee and one of her shoots has enough "assistants" as if she were shooting a movie.

    As for this picture is doesn't do much for me. My criteria for celebrity photography is, if it was Uncle Bob sitting there would it be a great picture. To me the answer is no.

    What makes the picture is that it is John Lennon. Not much else adds to it.


    Michael
     
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  3. Gay Larson

    Gay Larson Member

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    I agree with Michael in that this is not an interesting portrait on it's own. It is interesting that John Lennon is sitting in a room that looks like a basement of a not too expensive home. Must have been the early days, he's not even wearing the granny glasses. The lace pillows are a surprise too, makes you wonder if he's in a groupie's bedroom???
     
  4. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

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    That is interesting. I came very close to mentioning that very thing in my original post but I disagree with you. I think that if it was someone's Uncle Bob, it would say a lot about him. If Uncle Bob were gone, I would prefer this photograph as a remembrance of him over something more formal or outside of his personal surroundings.
     
  5. Bill Mitchell

    Bill Mitchell Member

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    What parody?
     
  6. eric

    eric Member

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    I *knew* some of those assistants! I processed a bunch of her personal film when I was a B&W lab rat. I would be so busy and she'd come (her assistant), and drop film off. Each roll would be different. And each roll had notes on it like "process in rodinol in XX develop for XX time". Crazy stuff. I was doing everything in D76 and Inspection but I had to stop and do her stuff almost one by one.

    If you've been to the Wax Museum in NYC, there's actually a wax figure of her holding her trademark Mamiya RB. No waxies of assistants though.
     
  7. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    My reaction was a like Michael's.

    I knew a lot of long haired guys who fiddled with guitars in bed wearing blue jeans and a blue "workshirt". (err....I was one myself).

    If it wasn't the "celebrity" it wouldn't be considered much of a photo.

    But perhaps it was mutually beneficial. It demonstrated that Liebovitz had "access" to a celeb in even the most informal settings. And it made many of Lennon's guitar-fiddling fans think: "Hey, this dude's just like me!"

    Had to be a career enhancer for both....
     
  8. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I quite like this one, as Flotsam said, if this were Uncle Bob it'd be a great reminder of his life... and this is a great reminder of Lennon's life. Looks almost like some makeshift bedroom at a music studio or something. That "business" phone in the back and the cinderblock wall strikes me as his "home away from home". I've mentioned this before about other photos, but I love the feet! :D
     
  9. catem

    catem Member

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    Well, I like it. I find it impossible to think about it as being something it isn't though (without John Lennon). Seems an odd way to be thinking about it. It is John Lennon, and catches him in quite an off-beat mood, makes a change from the Lennon-Ono pics, makes him seem very ordinary (well, as ordinary as it is possible for him to seem).

    I can't look at any pictures of John Lennon without feeling sadness - somehow this makes me sadder than most.
    Cate
     
  10. bruce terry

    bruce terry Member

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    Looks documentary-ish to me, like it probably worked very well within a series (supported the album cover from what you say) but standing alone not an earth-shaker. Maybe it's the album-oriented square format restricting a casual scene, maybe the Great Leibowitz needed to rush off to another celebrity gig, I don't know, to me this is just a straightforward historical record, taken in passing.

    Bruce

    PS- Not that there is anything wrong with square, or taking in passing
     
  11. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Aww, come on! This is the ultimate proof that Lennon was a real hipster: he smokes Gitanes, and not the more common Gauloises. Gitanes rips your throat in two, obliterates your voice (a must for any singer), chokes any dog within a radius of five miles, and does more to assert your frenchiness than any striped shirt or béret. I like the photo for the Gitanes pack.
     
  12. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    My take on this and most all of Annie's work....

    She's a commercial photographer, and she shoots like one. She serves up images that look like you'd expect them to look. She's an assignment shooter, and there's nothing wrong with that. But it says absolutely nothing remarkable to me whatsoever. This image of Lennon, like most of her celebrity work (which is pretty much all she does) simply says, "Look who I get to hang out with." Same message as in her recent TomKatieSuri stuff. I see her images as records of privilege, and that's about it.
     
  13. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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  15. catem

    catem Member

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    I like some of her pictures of Susan Sontag.
     
  16. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    The reason I mention the Uncle Bob comment is that a very large number of pictures of celebrities are only "good" because it's a celebrity. That's why I mentally impose "Uncle Bob" into them. If it stands up, it's a good picture, if not, well....

    Part of this is because we seem to have this strange relationships with media created celebrities and make emotional connections with them, even though we have no real idea what they are really like. We sort of treat them like an exhaulted family member. When we see their pictures our hearts race a little, much like they would if it were of our child or loved one.

    While we do this, we promote the photographer who happened to get access to this celebrity, to a celebrity status as well, somehow thinking that since we "love" the person in the image, we are in some sort of awe of the person who took this masterpiece. This picture says nothing more about the photographers ability than the fact that she had access.

    The magazine industry understands this and finds that readership goes up with virtually every magazine on the racks, if a celebrity is on the cover. This happens even though there is nothing about the celeb in the magazine. It's an strange interesting human quirk.

    The adage "if you want to be a famous photographer, take pictures of famous people" applies to this genre.

    This picture was probably during the time Leibovitz worked for Rolling Stone and had access to rock stars, and almost any picture of one's rock "hero" was considered sacred.

    I agree this is a "nice" picture of an unglamorous moment, but without the emotional 'baggage" that you, a lover of John Lennon bring to it, is it a good picture?

    In my opinion it's not a bad picture, just nothing special. Maybe to you that is the point. Not sure.


    Michael
     
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  17. catem

    catem Member

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    I'm not sure I'm a lover of John Lennon exactly, or even a fan, it's more associations with early childhood & The Beatles - an unbelieveable phenomenon in the sixties in the U.K. - and then his untimely death which was pretty horrible - 'Emotional baggage' doesn't sound quite right, I prefer to think of it as 'associations'...and yes, it's hard or impossible to discard this, and I'm not sure of the value of doing so, as that is all part of how I respond to this particular photograph. This was, infact, the orignal poster's question, or reason for posting, rather than a consideration of Liebovitz as a photographer, and I suppose I was trying to keep to that too.

    It's an interesting question though, the relationship between a picture and whatever it is the viewer brings to it. I'm not sure you can ever strip the latter bare, or even if it's desirable to do so. It's important, though, to be aware of the perspective you bring.

    I suppose for whatever reason, I do like this one, and I find it more interesting to reflect on my reasons for liking it (however subjective) rather than considering the photographer's role in general. I suppose, with a different photo or subject, I might be more interested in the latter. It isn't 'anything special' on one level, except, as I said before, it shows John Lennon unusually unaware of the fact that he's in the media's eye and I like that, I think it's part of it's success. You could say L. was simply showing that she knew J.L., or you could say it's showing that J.L. knew L. and wasn't acting up to her - I suppose I'm not sure what everybody is meaning by the 'special' when they describe it as 'nothing special'....to me it has captured something of John Lennon. I might find the photographs that Jane Bown took of him in the sixties more striking but there again...they speak of a different time, a totally different decade, also a different (non-existent really) relationship between subject and photographer...

    I think my main point is (sorry if this has been rambling...) you can't have a picture of an icon and say "Would this work if the subject wasn't an icon?" because that is the essence of the photo, and changes what might work and might not work in other circumstances....

    Cate
     
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  18. bruce terry

    bruce terry Member

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    "I think my main point is....you can't have a picture of an icon and say "Would this work if the subject wasn't an icon?" because that is the essence of the photo, and changes what might work and might not work...." Cate

    True, and I see Uncle BOB being told to go home now. :¬/
     
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  19. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I'll give one more example of what I'm talking about and then I quit hogging the thread.

    Take 2 iconic portraits Karsh's Churchill and Migrant Mother.

    Possibly the reason we like the Churchill so much is he is celebrated, famous beyond belief, and Karsh did a masterful job of bringing out his grumpyness. All in all a great portrait. But if you take him out and put in another "executive" who you didn't know, would the picture have anywhere near the same impact. Same expression, same lighting but the who cares factor enters it.

    Now with Migrant Mother, we don't know who she is, or really care. We just can see a perhaps distraught, overburdened, human being. We are drawn to it, not because we know her, but because we feel for her. She is a dramatic representation of the human condition. We connect.

    With Churchill, with John Lennon, Madonna, we connect but in a sort of superficial way, with Migrant Mother we connect in a profound way.

    That was what the Uncle Bob thing does for me. If it weren't a celeb would I care.


    Michael
     
  20. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Michael:

    Have you ever seen the other shot that Karsh did of Churchill during the same sitting, where Churchill is smiling?

    Some times the iconic stature is as much the subject of the portrait as is the icon.

    I like the Liebovitz portrait of Lennon because of the interplay between the man, and his fame.

    It wouldn't work with Uncle Bob, unless it was Uncle Bob Dylan of course.

    Matt
     
  21. donbga

    donbga Member

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    One more thing I would add to Cheryl's astute reply is that since she began working for Vanity Fair her work broadened to include celebrities accross the spectrum of the entertainment industry. Her best know photo IMO, is this one ( a Lennon/Ono ) http://www.art-forum.org/z_Leibowitz/Ip/AL_Lennon.htm or the one of Demi Moore. My favorite was her cover shot on Rolling Stone of Meryl Streep.

    IMO, her book on the summer Olympics in Atlanta and 'Women' were dismal failures and deserved their place in the mark down bins in bookstores.

    Her flair for posing and getting celebs to do somewhat unusal poses was one of the reasons she suceeded as she has. FWIW, I think most of her best stuff was done in her Rolling Stone Magazine years.

    I've also heard through the grapevine she is impossible to work for and can treat her assistants shamefully. My polite way of saying she is a Bee Eye Itch.

    My 2 cents,
     
  22. CraigK

    CraigK Member

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    There are very few people in the world whose blue-jeaned crotch is of any interest to me.

    John Lennon is not among them.
     
  23. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    A friend of mine was an assistant to Liebovitz. Based on what he told me you are being generous. One thing is for sure, If your subjects are the world's most famous people you are going to do AOK.

    What I find interesting about this shot has little to do with the photograph. Frankly, it could have been shot by Yoko.
     
  24. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    Agree with most previous posters.

    My impression is that AL is dedicated to the point of obsession and self-assertive to the point of arrogance (if not beyond). The wider question is - do you have to be this way to get to the top, particularly as a celebrity portraitist (bearing in mind that for celebrity photographers further down the tree than AL, the boot is on the other foot, with celebrities treating the photographers like dirt)? An interesting situation, when you consider that even in the case of photographers like AL, if celebrities feel the photographer is becoming too much the star, they will freeze him/her out in an instant!

    Once again, a good picture for debate!

    Regards,

    David
     
  25. Tony Egan

    Tony Egan Subscriber

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    I lean towards Blansky's views. At the risk of being labelled a pseudo-intellectual wanker, I think this is a case where Roland Barthes' concepts of the "studium" and the "punctum" are helpful in analysis.

    As a "study" of a young man from a Western culture, relaxing with a musical instrument in inauspicious surroundings it's a kinda average photograph -one most of us could replicate of a friend/brother/partner/Uncle Bob quite readily.

    The "point" is it is John Lennon; he wrote some of the most memorable/popular songs in history; he died a violent and untimely death; when I look at him many memories and emotions come flooding back; I get taken away to a different place...etc etc. The proverbial wild man from Borneo looking at this might be curious about the clothing, glasses, hair intrument etc. Mostly "studium" if any "punctum" at all.

    So the "point" about celebrity photography is that. The "studium" doesn't really rate unless it's about fashion trends or the like The point is it's a celebrity. How many simply awful full frontal flash photos do you see in trashy celeb magazines? This one is certainly a cut above those but photographically to me it's all about the Lennon "punctum" and what flows from that.

    Who knew Uncle Bob test = esoteric French philosophy!
     
  26. catem

    catem Member

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    A minor point, perhaps, and not necessarily to disagree with anything much, but I think there's a difference between 'celebrity' and 'icon', and John Lennon definitely comes into the latter category, which makes appreciation/perception of this photo a bit different from most of L's.

    Quite interesting to compare it with the Che Guevara photo, which as a young teen I would definitely have chosen to have on my wall rather than this one (in fact didn't have either). However, with the benefit of maturer years :smile:p ) although I still think the Che Guevara one is great, I can see that it is in the 'romantic' vein which at least this one, in it's 'banality' (not necessarily bad) escapes...

    O.k. enough from me :wink:

    Cate