Marjorie’s Porch, 2012
A month or so ago I mentioned the new Annie Leibovitz book, “Pilgrimage," a collection of photographs of the homes, working places and belongings of famous people who are deceased. In an interview when the book was released Leibovitz talked about how difficult it was making photographs that capture the essence of people without showing the people. In my blog post I expressed amazement that such an accomplished photographer could be surprised by this challenge.
After that, I thought my curiosity about the book and Leibovitz’ comment had been sated. But now the plot thickens. Leibovitz has donated a set of prints from the book to the Smithsonian Institution. This is a wonderful and generous gift to “America’s Attic,” as the Smithsonian is sometimes called, and as a seasoned PR person might note, a wonderful way for Leibovitz to begin restoring a reputation tarnished by media attention to her embarrassing financial problems.
An Associated Press account of the Smithsonian gift and the exhibit of the photographs noted that Leibovitz is “still learning about new technology and about herself.” The account goes on to make it sound as if Ms. Leibovitz was waging a great and risky artistic battle in taking on this photographic project.
The same AP story quoted the dean of one of the nation’s prestigious schools of art and design dean saying, “Leibovitz is presenting cultural history in a new way…She's trying to convey a sense of people without the people actually being there in front of the camera…bushwhacking through our cultural legacy and figuring it out as she went along."
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
All I can say is that art school deans must live very sheltered lives. Elliot Erwitt took one of the most famous photographic portraits of all times in 1955—and also one where the subject is not present—when he photographed Pablo Casals’ cello in the great master’s home. The picture’s an icon of Twentieth Century photographic portraiture.
Casal’s Cello, by Elliot Erwitt, 1955
Heck, on any day of the week on Flickr one can find many fine examples of amateur and professional photographers “presenting cultural history in a new way” and, as I see it, recording the meaningful and meaningless ephemera of daily life in this world. And I’ll bet none of them would cop to the pretention of describing their work as “bushwhacking.”
Art isn’t easy, or at least that’s what Georges Seurat says in Stephen Sondheim’s “Sundays in the Park with George.” Sometimes it takes incredible perseverance to capture or birth the image you want. But for crying out loud, let’s not make it into brain surgery. There’s all that actual bushwhacking to be done in the woods behind my house and I can’t be worrying about it when I’m out taking pictures.
As for Marjorie’s Porch (above), if you knew Marjorie you wouldn’t have to see her in this picture to know it’s her porch.