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Pilgrimage; An Exhibition

Most of us are familiar with Annie Leibovitz’s quirky and revealing celebrity photos in Vogue, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. “I couldn’t help but be pulled into other people’s lives,” she has said.

Widowed when her partner Susan Sontag died in 2004, and recovering from financial difficulties, she set out on a pilgrimage across the United States to take pictures of monuments and historical landscapes. But, of course, these images are much more; they are metaphors of loss.

The photographs are gorgeous and haunting. Gorgeous, because Leibovitz has attained a skill level that only comes with experience and self-confidence. Haunting, because there is a strange emptiness in the images. What is missing? What remains? How is this landscape held in our memory? How is our life renewed? What has been left unsaid?

The curator has left us to find our own way into this armature as we walk through the galleries. There are no diverting explanations as we come upon a framed cluster; we have to figure it out for ourselves. Yes, a guide is available, but the text is minimal and not that interesting. Just the facts, no interpretation.

Consider the photograph of Gettysburg, for example, where a Civil War battle raged. It’s stunning, quiet, inflamed with a turning autumn tree, the artist’s inner transformation of grief into art, negative space made palpable as we contemplate the iconic setting.

I have admired Leibovitz’s work for a long time and am pleased she is continuing to explore her medium with gusto and imagination.

The exhibit is on at the New York Historical Society until February 22nd.
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