Annie Leibovitz must be one of the coolest people alive. At the opening of WOMEN: The Portraits, she mooched around, tall and wiry in her black shirt, Annie Hall trousers and dude sneakers; grey hair unbrushed. The androgynous photographer never wears make up, and has a cigarette-stained voice full of gravel. You can't help but fall under her spell.
The world's leading celebrity portraitist has become just as famous as her subjects, many of whom feature in the exhibition, which will travel to 10 cities over the course of 12 months. In London, it is housed in the cooler-than-thou Wapping Project at the old power-station: a tangle of wires and exposed piping.
The project is a continuation of one that began in 1999, when Leibovitz and the legendary Susan Sontag, presented a collection of portraits entitled WOMEN. The only thing that linked the images was their female subjects.
The second instalment of this compendium of modern womanhood picks up where the first left off, but is far less inclusive. The WOMEN in 1999 were from all walks of life: astronauts, teachers, athletes, miners. 2016's subjects are made up purely high-voltage celebrities (and, we think, all the less interesting for it.)
Cate Blanchett © Annie Leibovitz
Leibovitz' portrait style is instantly recognisable; crisp, bold and beautifully-lit. Her portraits are painterly; none of the lurid colours or perversion of Terry Richardson or David LaChapelle, but all of the drama. The Queen stands, resplendent and imperious, in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace. Peer closely, though and you'll see the barely-concealed look of fury on HRH's face.
The shoot caused something of a brouhaha: the two women allegedly didn't see eye to eye (the Queen was "cranky", reports Leibovitz). Elsewhere, Adele sits at her piano, her shoulder exposed and head thrown back in what could be despair. Lupita Nyongo's profile stares out, Taylor Swift skips down a garden path, Amy Schumer and Serena Williams, both rather undressed, have their picture in the exhibition.
Ellen Degeneres © Annie Leibovitz
That these are wonderful portraits is clear. There are, however, some problems with this confused exhibition. The mega-watt stars cannot distract from the fact that Leibovitz does very little to challenge accepted notions of femininity. OK, so we have Caitlin Jenner's portrait, and Ellen Degeneres', in which she appears topless, aside from a spangly mermaid-esque bikini, her face painted like a clown and her boxer shorts visible - half man, half woman. Aside from these, though, there are very few portraits of Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender women. Surely an artist with as high a profile as Leibovitz' has a responsibility to further LGBT visibility?
In fact, what we're shown is not a celebration of modern womanhood, rather a representation of an incredibly narrow section of society: high-profile, high earning, white women. Blowing up Lupita Nyongo's head so that it is one of the most visible portraits does not make this exhibition ethnically diverse. This show is little more than a selection of Annie Leibovitz' editorial work, with all the men lopped off.
Despite this, though, the sheer starriness of this Leibovitz' work, combined with her' brilliance and the Wapping Project's industrial architecture, makes this a fun day down at the docks. Just don't expect to be provoked, or challenged.
|What||REVIEW: Annie Leibovitz, WOMEN Portraits|
Wapping Hydraulic Power Station
Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, Wapping Wall, E1W 3SG | MAP
|Nearest tube||Tower Hill (underground)|
16 Jan 16 – 07 Feb 16, Monday – Thursday: 10am – 6pm Saturday – Sunday: 10am – 6pm Friday: 10am – 8pm
|Price||£TBC Online tickets will be available from December|
|Website||Click here for more details|