Photographer Annie Leibovitz took a break from her magazine and portrait work to create a new offering, Pilgrimage, which is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Leibovitz photographed the private lives led by legendary figures. And in doing so, she looked behind their fame and captured images of them working on the art or ideas that defined their legacies.
Longtime fans of her work are undoubtedly in for a surprise. They have come to expect excessive and imaginative sets, which have included everything from marching bands to bathtubs of warm milk (recall her famous photo of Whoopi Goldberg). They expect Leibovitz to push the boundaries of what’s possible, or even socially acceptable, in a magazine photo shoot.
They’ll see none of that in “Pilgrimage.” Instead, they’ll see Leibovitz actively defying their expectations, taking pictures, by herself, without an agenda.
But she’s not giving up on her magazine assignment work just yet. Her name is still in the photo credits for Vogue and Vanity Fair.
And, political junkies, take note: She’s still creating portraits of some of the most influential people in Washington. This month’s issue of Vogue features a picture of Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) standing alongside Meryl Streep in front of the Capitol.
The photograph is part of a larger shoot for the magazine’s cover story on Streep and her new film, “The Iron Lady.” Streep agreed to the cover story on the condition that it include a picture of advocates for a National Women’s History Museum. Streep has contributed $1 million to the cause and serves as its celebrity spokeswoman.
According to Maloney, who chatted with Leibovitz after the shoot, Leibovitz designed the photo as a replica of an old picture that her mother took on a school field trip. The photo shows the Members standing on the Capitol lawn, posing as they likely did in their grade school trips to Washington.
“She had done a great deal of work before she did the shoot,” Maloney said.
All of the women in the photo are dressed entirely in black, except for the Members of Congress, who each wear a splash of color.
“We were instructed to dress as we would for our work in Congress. Vogue asked us to come prepared with pocketbooks and briefcases to add a look of rolling up our sleeves to bring the National Women’s Museum to fruition,” Collins said.
Leibovitz worked “very rapidly,” Norton said, but she let the group establish a comfortable dynamic. “She made herself almost invisible. … She extracted herself from the shoot except when she had to place us.”
In the photo that ran with the cover story, Streep — one of the world’s most famous actresses — is hardly noticeable, kneeling on the grass in the corner of the photo. Leibovitz instead draws the most attention to the four Members who have worked on legislation to authorize construction of the museum on the National Mall.
“Annie Leibovitz is a true professional and an extraordinary artist,” Collins said. “She’s photographed rock stars, famous models and [Queen Elizabeth II], but she managed to make us feel equally as special.”