Review: Annie Leibovitz's "WOMEN: New Portraits"

Before visiting the exhibition at Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, London, I knew very little about Annie Liebovitz's work. Growing up with a Dad who is passionate about photography, she was a name I heard mentioned every now and then, generally not in the most positive light. But on reading about her new exhibition in the latest issue of Vogue, my Dad and I knew we had to go.

The location of the exhibition is as interesting as Liebovitz's photography. Wapping, a district on the Thames in East London, is drenched in gentrification. Originally docklands, it was destroyed by bombing in the second World War, and wasn't rebuilt until the 1980s. Nowadays, as is too often the case, the average price for a flat or house is £854,507 or £1,333,167 respectively. The atmosphere is pretty stale, quite honestly. The rich history of the area has been pretty much wiped-out, in favour for the culture of 20-something City workers and their Sunday running clubs.

As an exhibition setting, the converted Power Station is frankly, very cool. It is stripped-back, raw, and feels refreshingly honest in comparison to the studio flats that surround it. The exhibition space is in a large central hall, with exposed brick walls, big windows and high ceilings. The display is made up of 3 large screens covering three sides of a square, with the final side being a board of her photos. This board (seen above), in terms of presentation, is disappointing at best. The prints aren't of the best quality, and are just pinned in with drawing pins to the board (you can see the holes made by multiple attempts to align them along the string). The perspex sheet in front of the pictures reflects the light behind the viewer, preventing you from being able to even see the pictures along the top. The large screens, which are a slideshow of all her work, work well on the whole, and allow the viewer to really focus on each photo.

However, none of this detracts from the staggering quality of her work. Her composition and lighting is spot-on every time. She plays about with colour in a way that is always interesting and never becomes too same-y, even after viewing more than fifty of her photos. Each photo is built around the individual subject, subtly reflecting who they are in a very engaging way. Many are shot on location, which allows Leibovitz to communicate the personality of lesser known figures like Tavi Gevinson (below, 2nd) to an audience who may be unfortunately unaware of her championing of the beautiful angst of being a teenager, and refusing to apologize for it or her talent and intelligence. It also allows a more interesting look at figures such as Gloria Steinem (below), presenting her primarily as a writer, rather than her usual portrayal as a great feminist warrior (she is, of course, both).  Her studio work is equally as engaging. Often the perspective reveals much of the studio set-up, creating a somewhat meta layer, but also reminding the audience how much of construct studio portraiture is, drawing our attention back to the subject as a human being, rather than just a superficial object.    

As a feminist, I was totally in awe of how she captures women. No individual is presented the same as another, nobody is overly sexualised, and she limits cliches of femininity, without ever aping men. The uniting attribute of Leibovitz's photography, which isn't obvious at first, is her ability to capture the strength of all her subjects.

"Women: New Portraits" runs from January 16th to February 7th 2016, before touring worldwide.


face of puzzle pieces

I shall let my silence speak for itself. My head has been all over the place the last few months, and I have had to take time out of many things that are important to me to give myself the space to heal; this blog being one of them.

9am in a diner at Euston Station, drinking orange juice after a three person 1am rave in Trafalgar square

To bring y'all up to speed, I'm currently on my gap year. I didn't get my place at my first choice university, which was a massive bummer to say the very least, but I did at my insurance university, which is super awesome. Learning that one can feel crushing disappointment and overwhelming excitement simultaneously about the very same event, is something I still struggle to comprehend and be totally chill with.

When people ask me what I've been up to so far, my knee-jerk response is to just say "nothing", which is total bs. I've written for my local newspaper, tried at waitressing for a week and was never called back to organise another shift, travelled to see friends, been on protests, tutored young and old alike, read so many beautiful and wonderful books, spent afternoons exploring parts of my hometown I never knew existed, been to countless galleries, lectures and gigs, and discovered a love of cooking. But honestly, the majority of things have happened in my head. Having an entire year off to dedicate to myself is the most wonderful thing and I don't think I had appreciated just quite how much I needed it. Learning not only how vital self-care is, but also how hard it can be to really put it in to practice, has been tough at points, and so has reconciling conflicting logic and emotions, and realising that find it hard is ok. Who knew you could learn so much about yourself just by thinking??? I'm now pretty sure I want a career centred around communication and words in some form; I have begun to recognise patterns in how I form friendships, and how important those friendships are to me; and I've realised how much I like to feel grounded and connected to my surroundings.

A painfully hipster 2nd breakfast in Camden's Falla and Mocaer

Anyway, in exactly 1 month I will be traveling to Berlin to learn German there for two months. I'm unbelievably excited as this is what my entire gap year is about. Although I went there for a week on an exchange, having never done anything quite like this before, it's hard to visualise what it's going to be life. Life changing, fingers crossed. It's one of the reasons I felt this compulsion to blog again, as I know I'm going to want to spend part of my countless lonely afternoons in Germany's capital writing furiously about my experiences out there.

Hopefully you will hear again from my soon!


April/May/June Disposables

My Granny's favorite coffee store in London

The City, which seemed pathetic in its wealth and isolation

The final installment of Fleur in the Library

Leaving a beach party early

My last school lunch that looks just as grim as it tasted


PS Sorry that it's short and sorry for my absence. However I have another set and a longer written post coming soon I promise!!


Hello, my old friend

Old dorm disarray.
As may be noted from the title at the top using the plural “their,” implying multiple persons, this blog was initially the joint venture of multiple individuals.

Somewhere along the way, between the awkward, enthusiastic teenage-selves who had just completed GCSEs, and our graduated, university-bound present, I drifted away from this space. I won’t make extended apologies (I still have no reason to believe otherwise than that the internet doesn’t care I exist).

I left home for a school whose nature still fails to be penned down to my satisfaction. Trying to write one sentence about it inadvertently turns into several and it is not long before I am waxing rhapsodic about the meaning of life and incidents that shape who we are, so I will spare you that for the moment. Let it suffice to say that the last two years at a UWC were and remain incredibly important to me, so my regrets about not spending more time with the 32 Different Snapchats That Get You In The Morning or watching Video Of Hilarious Animal Sneezes are few to none (on another note, please look UWC and share it with 15-17 year-olds - it might be pointless and they won’t care, but it could be just what a good few of them are looking for at that moment, as for me).

I originally decided to keep a blog on motivation from Rookie and the associated community, which I liked and could relate to far more than that which had me suffering from a serious case of suburban-teenage-wasteland-blues. Although what I needed at the time, it came to carry a lot of the angsty sentiments I poured into it. This, when revisited, just took me back to not-a-good-place which I would rather avoid and is partly explanatory for my absence.

Another sore-point was being a bit mhhh about the somewhat self-centred feeling of sharing things you write/photograph/eat/think/see/everything on the internet as it seems to suggest conviction that you have something to say that the world wants to hear. (See the ironic-not-ironic-ironic article by Hazel Cills below,
Ultimately, someone is always going to care about what you're doing — and they'll want to read about it on the internet. It might not be the 'I'll always be here for you in your darkest hour' kind of caring — maybe more the 'retweet' kind of caring. But whether you're volunteering at your neighborhood soup kitchen or shopping at Ikea for weird office furniture, someone will be following you online. Trust me, I know, because I'm pretty sure everyone really, really, really cares about me. - Hazel Cills on digital narcissism, Oyster).
And, while I am quite happy to go along with the world's indifference because it is more about the process/routine/self-articulation than ATTENTION à la digital witness, it still tends to be seen as fairly self-absorbed, which is not my intention whatsoever. I could keep this private, but the potential of real human beings seeing it is effective effectively in forcing me to minimise the bad practice of treating grammar as optional and writing in just one very long sentence.1 Plus, the community aspect or ~communication~ with cool internet people who lead cool internet lives. I have opted for the highly healthy coping mechanism of just not dwelling on this too much for now.

Now, between my towering stack of old National Geographic magazines scavenged from the closing library, current obsession with The New Yorker and determination not to while away my summer by lying in bed and lamenting the retirement of Sandy Toksvig from The News Quiz, I remain interested in writing or journalism, as well as merely sharing and chronicling experiences - feeling ~connected~ to people you may not even know and live in New Zealand or something. I would very much like to continue writing here as an all-time-consuming island of secondary school is now being replaced by the time-benevolent metropolis of university (ha, but still, they say that, comparatively, you have a lot of free time - we’ll see). The wallowing-in-angstiness disincentive to my writing here has been overcome by either deleting all of my previous posts or reverting them to draft status. As I am almost inevitably cripplingly embarrassed, in alternation, by anything I wrote more than two months ago/not for a school assignment/more than two weeks ago/anything I wrote, ever, this is not too harsh a consequence to pay for escaping my previous angsty self.

So, yeah, after two strange and intense the-opposite-of-loneliness years, I have completed the International Baccalaureate and am on track to study International Relations and History at the LSE this September, whilst still harbouring mild resentment that I can’t also be studying Literature. I intend to be here more, as well as reading about all of your wonderful antics and working out why exactly I get such joy every time I see that picture of Mao we decided to use as our background.2

‘Till soon.

1My sentences are still way too long and, unfortunately, I am no Dickens. It is a work in progress.

2Indulge a history student with a particular penchant for those weird incidents which seem both like something that must be made up and simply can’t be made up: 1958, Mao launches the Great Leap Forward, a plan to develop China based on very questionable science (“the corn will grow higher the more you desire”) which results in tens of thousands of deaths and his stepping back in the communist party to let others lead more. 1966, Mao decides he wants his power back so launches a carefully orchestrated propaganda event where his 72 year-old self is seen swimming in the Yangtze river for a couple of hours to demonstrate his Youth and Vitality. This event heralds in the Cultural Revolution, “by all accounts one of the most bizarre events in history” according to some historian I cannot remember, as thousands of youths follow Mao’s proclamations that “to rebel is justified,” smash up centuries-old Chinese antiquities and are sent to the countryside to learn revolution from the peasants. (Obviously this is a somewhat humorous simplification - my coping mechanism for most things that make me want to bash my head into my desk - as vast numbers of people suffered horribly).


Let's go down to the tennis courts

"Beautiful girls at high school wouldn't even look at you if you didn't have a car and an allowance of twenty bucks to spend on 'em" - From 'Miss Temptation' by Kurt Vonnegut

"All through high school, people like you would look at me as if they wished I'd drop dead. They'd never dance with me, they'd never talk to me, they'd never even smile back. They'd just go slinking around like small-town cops. They'd look at me the way you did - like I'd just done something terrible" - From 'Miss Temptation' by Kurt Vonnegut

All photos of Fleur taken by me