In South Florida, celebrities are part of the scenery. So Annie Leibovitz’s photographs of the Hollywood elite hold particular resonance for us. Even if we’ve never seen anyone famous, we know the culture — larger-than-life, flashy, surreal.
Yet the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach is currently displaying an intriguing exhibit of thirty-nine of Leibovitz’s photographic portraits. A-List Hollywood, bestselling authors, hip-hop artists, Supreme Court justices — they are all here. However, there are also photos of individuals who may not be well known to the general public, such as artist Agnes Martin and fife player Othar Turner.
Scott Benarde, Director of Communications at the Norton, provided insight into how the exhibit was organized: “When [Assistant Director at the Norton Charles Stainback] initially began working on this acquisition and exhibition for the Museum more than two years ago, he was the Curator of Photography. His goal was to create a collection of Leibovitz’s work that showcased her as one of the great portrait photographers of the 20th century.”
For forty years, Leibovitz has photographed notable figures in pop culture and politics for publications like Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. Even more recently, she created a Disney Dream portrait series that featured celebrities as Disney characters.
However, Benarde said that fame and celebrity did not dictate the selection of works for the Norton exhibit.
“[Stainback] was concerned about the portrait’s mood, style, atmosphere, and angle, not how famous the person or the photo was/is.”
Although Benarde asserted that Stainback “did not break [Leibovitz’s] work down into segments of society,” there are several portraits that may be particularly significant to the LGBT community.
Poet Allen Ginsberg sits on a chair next to a sink in a dilapidated bathroom. As he stares directly at the camera, he lifts his leg and ties his shoe — a mundane act in a lackluster setting. Yet the photo captures Ginsberg in movement, evoking ideas of transition and permanence.
Artist Andy Warhol almost refuses to be seen in his portrait. He maintains his distance by pointing a camera at Leibovitz, resisting his position as the subject matter of the photograph. The portrait of him becomes his portrait of her.
Leibovitz’s photograph of filmmaker Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Far from Heaven, I’m Not There) and actress Julianne Moore is more staged than the others in the exhibit. They are in the front seat of a car with Moore at the wheel. She stares out into the distance as Haynes warily watches her — interestingly, neither one of them seems to have control in this situation.
Women may also connect to several standout photos that emphasize empowerment, individualism, and fearlessness of emotion.
The photo of Yoko Ono is arresting — she is covered in beads of water, her hair pulled back and graying, her eyes closed. Since the photo was taken in 1981 — a year after John Lennon’s death and after Leibovitz’s famous portrait of the couple — it is a powerful portrait of grief.
Musician Lucinda Williams’ photograph speaks of freedom. She stands at the side of a highway next to an open car door. Behind her is the wide expanse of the sky, and the open road.
Leibovitz has two photographs of Las Vegas showgirl Susan McNamara — one in which McNamara is topless, holding open a gold lamé cape, wearing an elaborately beaded headdress; and the other in her everyday clothes, wearing glasses and looking very much like a suburban housewife. It is a portrait that emphasizes the different sides of an individual self, particularly the contrast and overlap between person and persona.
As Benarde concluded, “The exhibition illustrates the work of a great photographer who cares about her subjects no matter who they are…[Leibovitz] sees human beings and tries to capture their essence. And that’s what this exhibition also strives to do.”
If you go to the Annie Leibovitz Exhibit at the Norton Museum of Art
January 17, 2013 to June 9, 2013
Tuesday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Wednesday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Thursday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Friday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
1451 South Olive Avenue
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Adults: $12, Students: $5 *
Children 12 & under: FREE
Palm Beach County residents receive FREE admission on the first Saturday of every month. *
West Palm Beach residents receive FREE admission every Saturday. *
* Must present valid photo ID
For more information: