There’s Adele at the piano, eyes closed, deep in thought. And Caitlyn Jenner off the telly, in an outtake from her Vanity Fair shoot. And Taylor Swift, in black, by a bush. And businesswoman Wendy Deng taking a (probably rare) moment off. And Aung San Suu Kyi, beautifully dignified as ever. And ballet dancer Misty Copeland (pictured) en point. And… Has anyone ever turned Annie Leibovitz down? At the press launch, the starriest of photographers to the stars claimed still to have Angela Merkel in her sights. Here’s betting the chancellor will appear as this show of portraits of influential women, commissioned by UBS for its art collection, tours the world over the next 12 months, growing as it goes.
What you get here feels, weirdly, epic and a tad slight. There are three big screens, two showing rolling Leibovitz images, including shots from her original ‘Women’ series from 1999, one displaying a static image of the Queen. The real interest lies in a wall where near-identically sized photos (including Adele, Misty and Caitlyn) are pinned – a democracy of scale contrasting with wild fluctuations of achievement.
Leibovitz is an exemplary image maker. But, above functioning as a kind of roll call of big names, I’m not sure how much these photographs reveal about their subjects. Intimacy, casualness, posturing – all seem equally stage-managed, deceptive, part of a celeb’s look-book of styles. Leibovitz pioneered them but they seem to serve her sitters rather better than a curious audience.
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This is the most over-hyped, superficial, badly presented, poorly designed exhibition in London right now. There are not many images and they are badly printed and simply drawing-pinned to a make-shift wall. They are all squeezed together so that, although the Wapping Hydraulic Station is a vast, beautiful space, only a very few people can see the pictures at a time, which has resulted in huge queues to get in to the exhibition. I waited in line one hour ten minutes on Saturday, and then only lasted 25 minutes in the exhibition. It just is not worth it. Better to look at some of the pictures on line. Or look at the work of a different photographer -- eg Alec Soth currently at the Science Museum. He's in a different league as a photographer!
I visited the exhibit the first weekend it was open and was surprised to find no line when we arrived around 1:30pm on Sunday. In fact, the only line I saw was the people waiting outside for the free coffee & tea (bonus!).
The main exhibit is in a large, bare, industrial room, which
is a stark contrast to Leibovitz’s whimsical, elegant, and often opulent
photographs. There are static images on display, which are a select
Lebovitz’s work, and two large screens run through hundreds of images of
over the years. There is a smaller, more intimate room next to the main
exhibit with a table of books where you can read more about the women in
the photographs and see the majority of Leibovitz's collection.
While you could easily spend hours sitting in the main exhibit hall watching the slideshow, if you are not one of the lucky ones to get a seat, you will probably get through the exhibit in under 30 minutes. So if are making a long commute in to Wapping for the exhibit, I would plan on building other activities in to you day, such as a visit to Tower Bridge and Borough Market.