These ten contemporary photographers approach the subject of the human form
in vastly different ways.
Long recognized as the gold standard for celebrity portraiture, Annie Leibovitz is equally well known for refusing to sacrifice her private life on the altar of public celebrity.
But in Leibovitz's most recent retrospective, A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005, we are finally allowed to glimpse the sanctum sanctorum.
At age 57, Leibovitz is working to reinvent herself by sharing her reportage work and intimate snapshots of her family and her partner, the writer Susan Sontag, who died in 2004.
In her introduction to the book, Leibovitz explains that she initially compiled many of the more personal photographs while putting together a book for Sontag's memorial service. Sontag's death, following complications from leukemia, was followed six weeks later by the death of Leibovitz's father. Thus it is no wonder that what Leibovitz refers to as "themes of death and grief" permeate the book.
"I don't have two lives," Leibovitz writes. "This is one life, and the personal pictures and the assignment work are all part of it." A Photographer's Life mirrors this sentiment with its organization, which is more or less chronological, mixing private moments with Leibovitz's signature high-profile portraits.
A similar effect is achieved by the accompanying exhibition, which was first shown at the Brooklyn Museum and will be on view at the San Diego Museum of Art through April 22.
Ultimately, the images of Sontag herself are the greatest proof of the iconographic power of Leibovitz's portraiture. "I edited this book with her in mind," Leibovitz writes. "As if she were standing behind me, saying what she would like to see in it." -Miki Johnson
Click Here for more on Annie Leibovitz' portrait technique and philosophy, or Click Here for a gallery with her images.
The Portrait as Historical Document
As a photojournalist, James Hill's credentials are as solid as they come. His coverage of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq helped the New York Times win a Pulitzer Prize, and he continues to roam the globe for both the newspaper and Time magazine. "I certainly don't consider myself a great portraitist," he says. "In fact, when I went into photojournalism, I really felt that I was turning away from portraiture, which was odd, because my photographic heroes were Irving Penn and August Sander."
He has since reexamined his ideas about the relationship between photojournalism and portraiture. "They are not necessarily exclusive pedigrees," he says. Last June, Hill, who is based in Moscow, decided to record the yearly celebration of what is known in Russia as Victory Day -- the day set aside to mark the end of World War II. But instead of heading out with his digital SLR, he packed his Hasselblad with a single 80mm f/2.8 lens and a white sheet to use as a backdrop and and went to Gorky Park, where many veterans of the war gather to have lunch with old Red Army comrades. Among these veterans are many women who served as nurses and administrators, but also combat soldiers, and even snipers. "I wanted to record their faces," says Hill, "because this generation is disappearing, year by year."
In that sense, his portraits can be seen as historical documents. The faces in these spare images tell a thousand stories. -Jeffrey Elbies
Click Here for more on James Hill's portrait technique and philosophy, or Click Here for a gallery with his images.
The Charismatic Portrait
Known as one of contemporary photography's great portraitists, Albert Watson nonetheless struggles when he attempts to describe what, exactly, a portrait is. "My definition is a broad one," he says in his rolling Scottish accent. "But for me it has to go beyond reportage. A portrait implies a studied approach, a real setup. It comes from the way painters once approached their subjects."
The images here are vibrant examples of just such an approach. Watson took them one night in a casino in Las Vegas, where he was working on a self-assigned project. "As a European, Las Vegas simply dazzles me," he says. "I actually have a very positive view of the place, because it delivers exactly what it says it will. It's an entire city built on the idea of service." Watson spent six months shooting everything from desert landscapes to neon signs to car wrecking lots, but above all the people who are drawn to Vegas. "I was searching for charisma -- people with some intensity, with some characteristic that made them eccentric," he says.
He found this young woman while riding in a hotel elevator, noticing first her ruby red Chinese shoes. "By the time we got to the top floor, I'd asked her if she wanted to pose. She was with her boyfriend, so that helped -- she wasn't scared of me." Watson had set up a makeshift studio in one of the casino's unused kitchens, with four different backdrops. He shot her in front of a red seamless with a Horseman 4x5 camera and 300mm lens. -Jeffrey Elbies
Click Here for more on Albert Watson's portrait technique and philosophy, or Click Here for a gallery with his images.