Sunday, 19 June 2016

Women Through Annie Leibovitz's Lens

An exuberant portrait of former First Lady Barbara Bush
Photographer Annie Leibovitz has an intimate exhibition on in Hong Kong until next Sunday called Women: New Portraits. She specifically chose a location that was hardly a comfortable gallery or centralized spot.

But for me it was convenient because it was in my neighbourhood, in an industrial building in Kennedy Town.

Photographs were exhibited side by side with no captions!
We had to register our names first before going up an old school elevator where you had to manually close the doors before it would move.

On the third floor of the building was an empty shell of something, a large area hollowed out, gritty and a bit stuffy. On the far end of the room were her portraits that seemed scattered in a random order.

Near the middle of the room were three screens set up in a semi circle, and chairs forming the other half of the circle for people to sit and watch an on-going slide show of Leibovitz's numerous photographs of women over the decades.

There were photographs of Meryl Street, the late Zaha Hadid, several of Hillary Clinton several years ago, former First Lady Barbara Bush, Malala Yousafzai, and a string of supermodels from the 1980s, like Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss, Amber Valletta and of course Naomi Campbell.

Four Las Vegas showgirls before and after
The pictures on the far wall were not large format photographs and they were placed close to each other, so visitors were all crowded trying to look at the pictures. The captions were not placed next to the pictures, so you had to keep looking at the program to find out who each person was.

This was the most frustrating part of the show, not being able to quickly find out who the person was so that one could either look up their biography in the program or move onto the next image.

For an exhibition shown in Hong Kong, it was disappointing to only see two Chinese faces -- and they weren't even from the city. One was Wendi Deng Murdoch taken post divorce last year -- is she still relevant? And Yao Chen, an actress and microblogger on Weibo.

Leibovitz's famous photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Nevertheless we were happy to see portraits of Aung San Suu Kyi, Jane Goodall, ballet dancer Misty Copeland, chef and restaurateur Alice Waters, and tech executive Sheryl Sandberg. Caitlyn Jenner was there too...

We also got to see the intimate photograph of a naked John Lennon wrapped around a clothed Yoko Ono, hours before he was shot and killed on December 8, 1980, and next to it a portrait of Ono a year later, profoundly changed.

There's also an intriguing set of eight photographs. They show a quartet of Las Vegas showgirls wearing their costumes and full make up, and then black and white photographs of them before their transformation. The differences are so stark -- shows what a lot of make up and razzle dazzle can do!

I quite enjoyed looking at the portraits projected on the screens, though there wasn't much time to take in the images before they moved onto the next one.

The determination and femininity of the late Zaha Hadid
But this also demonstrated how many photographs Leibovitz has taken over her decades long career, and in many cases how each portrait reflects each subject's personality.

Women: New Portraits by Annie Leibovitz
3/F, Cheung Hing Industrial Building
12P Smithfield Road
Kennedy Town
Until June 26, 2016

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