Annie Liebovitz, A Photographer's Life

Reading Between The Images

To have insight into human words, it is said that you must be able to “read between the lines.”

Annie Liebovitz, A Photographer's Life
Photography and Life, Between The Lines

One thing I love about what I call “portfolio books” is the opportunity to read between the images. Out of all the images that this photographer created, why pick these? The images can stand on their own or not. But the whole is more than the sum of the images. What exactly makes up that additional insight that the photographer has offered us  between her images?

If you are a photographer, and you question yourself and your work in the normal course of things (which I assume you do for many reasons), I strongly suggest that you go get a copy of this book. Like all photography portfolios, I need to and want to work through it several times to develop a worthwhile appreication. I am very wary of my first impression. So I try not to have one. The first time I go through the portfolio, I keep my mind blank and let the images strike me. As I get further into the portfolio and the body of work starts to take a shape in my mind I stop. Then I start again. This proces has served me well (I find that beer helps…).

I love this book because it clearly defines Annie’s inner eye. By juxtasposing personal family and lover’s pictures with celebrity images, Annie shows us that her investment in the act of image creation never changes. The feeling that her family and lover “snapshots” have is not quite identical to her celebrity portraits. But it is critical to see these images side by side so we can understand that the inner perception that drove these images has remained the same–the value of the emotion to the image is the same!

So what? Well, get out your snapshots and get out some of your professional work. Now mix them together in equal parts and view your “portfolio.” Is your emotional investment in the two sets of images at the same level? If so, what is that level? Is it superfical? Or is it downright un-nervingly personal? The consistency that Annie achieves down inside an obvious well of emotion is life-affirming to me. I admire that in the extreme. I want that in my photography and in me.

I find that this is a difficult point to make in words. So I want to resort to an opposing example. Consider Michael Grecco’s celebrity portrait work. I admire Grecco’s creations very much–especially his lighting. But his work is too clever to drain much emotion from the viewer. Maybe this isn’t surprising since much of it is desgned for entertainment magazine covers where emotional drainage probably isn’t the most sought-after image quality! Obviously, I don’t know Michael personally. But I have a strong feeling that he could never publish a book that mixed personal images with his professional work without making the viewer extremely conscious of the fact that HE was two different people when he created each kind of image. In mechanical terms, I would expect to see that the emotional investment he has in his professional work and in his personal life is quite different.

Annie is clearly not two different people behind a camera and just walking down the street. To me, that is an essence that shows in her images and whose absence “will out” as the bard has said. In my opinion, she deliberately selected and interspersed these images in this book specifically to demonstrate that quality in herself and her work. For me, the demonstration is a marvelous success.  If you have read this far, you should buy this book.