When arguably the world’s most famous portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz and her partner, writer and activist Susan Sontag, first collaborated more than 15 years ago on their portraiture series Women, the latter described it as “a work in progress”.
Sure enough, it was. Women: New Portraits, an exhibition that includes newly commissioned photographs by global financial services firm UBS, has opened at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. The fourth stop in a 10-city global tour, it will run till May 22.
While displaying some of Leibovitz’s newest work, the exhibition will also feature photographs from the original 1999 series, as well as other unpublished photographs taken since. Among the newest additions are portraits of Malala Yousafzai, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Misty Copeland, the first African-American prima-ballerina.
“[For] the 1999 project, we had women from all walks of life. We had coal miners, football players, women on death row. We had Hillary Clinton who was then the first lady. Looking back at it, I thought it was a strong foundation. I had been thinking of this for a while, but I never had the opportunity,” says Leibovitz, who was in town for the exhibition’s unveiling.
Described by UBS President of Wealth Management Jürg Zeltner as “a project that celebrates female talent and women who are making a positive difference in their communities”, the updated series will continue to evolve over the coming year.
More quotes from Leibovitz:
The exhibit’s 10-city tour:
“The shows are free and we’re moving from city to city. We’ve also been bringing in art students. In San Francisco, we had [American feminist and political activist] Gloria Steinem talking about issues and her own endeavours.”
Photographing Caitlyn Jenner:
“When I shot Caitlyn Jenner for Vanity Fair, it was an amazing sitting over two days and we were definitely not thinking about the magazine cover. We were focused on her change and her life. It was just so overwhelming how wonderful she was received and the response was a big deal. The whole world was talking about it. I had no doubt at all in my mind that she was going to be on this wall.”
Her photographic wish list:
“I’ve wanted to photograph Venus and Serena Williams, but they’ve been busy. Kim Kardashian, too, and of course First Lady Michelle Obama. I’ve also wanted to do a little series on the women on Star Wars.”
The difference photographing women in 1999 and today:
“In 1999, what we found out was that we are so diverse and complicated, and there are so many looks to us — way beyond what we see in magazines. For some reason or other, it came as a big surprise. It should not have been that. The big difference today is that [these women] have a sense of confidence; a better sense of who they are. I have less to do with the photograph. And it’s amazing, really.”
Advice to young photographers:
“When I met students from Lasalle in Singapore, I discussed this; about waiting for someone to give you a job — you can’t do that, you have to go out and get it. [Photography today is] really a different genre. You have to think about presentation, you have to think about what you’re doing and what you’re trying to say. Now, you can take photos on your iPhone, which by the way is fantastic. It’s an incredible time for photography. But if you want to give it a try, you have to go through a lot. There are still ways to make it as a photographer, whether to self-publish, or to magazines. I was very lucky, I started working with magazines when I was 20-years-old. You still can. It’s all about the content.”