Leibovitz offers a snapshot of exhibit's inspiration

October 14, 2007|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,sun art critic

At 58, celebrity portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz seems to have made peace with the choices that led her to a fantastically successful, 35-year career. Though her photos hang in art museums - an exhibition of her work opened this weekend at the Corcoran Gallery of Art - she doesn't seem particularly insistent on claiming everything she does is great art.

In Washington last week to promote her show Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005, she fielded more criticism that the concept - mixing slick images of Demi Moore, Brad Pitt, Queen Elizabeth II, etc. with personal snapshots of family and friends - seemed self-indulgent. Yet the truth probably is that it was one of those ideas that sounded good at the time, but didn't bear out in reality. Leibovitz admitted as much.

"The show came out of a particular moment in my life," she said, pointing out that she had watched her longtime partner, writer Susan Sontag, die of cancer, then lost her father a few weeks later. Meanwhile, she was having the first of three children that she is now raising as a single mother.

"I thought, what have I done to expose my family and my life like this?" Leibovitz recalled wondering during that period.

But she also suggested that creating an exhibition (and accompanying book) that tied her personal grief to the celebratory public images she created for Vanity Fair, Vogue and other publications was ultimately a healing experience.

She made explicit her belief in the therapeutic value of art: "Being in love with photography has been a healthy thing for me," she said.

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

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