Friday, 17 October 2008


I was fortunate enough to visit two major photgraphy exhibitions yesterday. The first, at the National Portrait Gallery in London, was the massive Annie Leibovitz - A photgrapher's life, 1990-2005. This is a magnificent exhibition, with some stunning, and incredibly moving contrasts between Leibovitz's public works and her private images, including some particularly heart-wrenching images of Susan Sontag's struggles with cancer. I have long been a fan of Leibovitz's work, and I found the exhibition inspirational. The massive prints - especially her landscape shots of Monument Valley and Wadi Rum - convey something that no book or magazine reproduction can manage. The Monument Valley shots are particularly interesting, as the captions suggest they were taken from a helicopter, and are far from technical perfection, but still seem to convey the spirit of place.

Of the public works, standouts for me were her portraits of Richard Avedon, William Burroughs and Leibovitz's mother. Hugely moving and quite inspirational. Her mastery of light and lighting is outstanding.

In complete contrast, at The Royal College of Arts, is Sarah Moon 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. This is a major retrospective of Moon's work, including 130 black-and-white photographs, 20–30 large-scale photographs and two film installations. This exhibition coincides with the launch of a book of Moon’s work published by Thames & Hudson and another show at the Michael Hoppen Gallery. Olympus are one of the sponsors of the exhibition, and I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the launch/ reception via the Olympus UK E-System Forum.

I'm less familiar with Sarah Moon's work, perhaps because I have little interest in "fashion" photography. However, I was completely gobsmacked by the contrast with Leibovitz. Moon's images are ethereal, reminiscent of dreams, whereas Leibovitz penetrates to the reality by (mostly) acute focus and observation, with her sitters either confronting the camera directly or apparently unaware. Perhaps because of my background in news photography, I find Leibovitz's images more appealing and easier to access. Nevertheless, I find myself repeatedly thinking about Sarah Moon's less hard-edged view of reality in a way I certainly wouldn't have expected at the time. However, I find it difficult to see how fashion images that - however "beautiful" - convey only the broadest brush impression of fashion can be regarded as successful. Nevertheless, we were told that she is highly regarded by many in the field, including Gaultier and Issey Miyake (and examples of her work for both designers are included). Although I "enjoyed" it less, I found the Moon exhibition very thought-provoking and a "slow burn". Definitely also recommended! I found the gallery space and the cluttered "arrangement" mildly annoying however.

It was good to meet up with other members of the Olympus UK Photo Safari Group at the launch, including Brian Mosley (and Mrs Mosley), John, Tim, Simon and "Photo Owl". One of the huge advantages of belong to these groups is it makes events like this much less lonely! Especially when surrounded by fashionistas...

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