Annie Leibovitz unveiled her “Women: New Portraits” exhibition at a press event on Tuesday. The show represents the Italian leg of a 12-month global tour, sponsored by the Swiss banking group UBS, that has touched based in London, Tokyo, San Francisco, Singapore, Hong Kong and Mexico City so far.
“I’m so glad to be here in Milan, Milan means a lot to me,” said Leibovitz, who also thanked UBS, stressing how the banking group “did not hesitate to jump in to support this project” and “made it possible for the show to be open to the public for the next three weeks.”
Running from Sept. 9 to Oct. 2, the exhibit is hosted at the Fabbrica Orobia, an industrial space located in Milan’s southern area, which is quickly developing since the opening of the nearby Fondazione Prada.
“This show really is an installation, it’s a pop-up show,” said Leibovitz. “We tend to put it into really historical buildings, in locations that had a sense of being reused and this Fabbrica Orobia is exactly that kind of place, now turning into a cultural center. I love that it was a factory for light bulbs — as a photographer that seems kind of amusing.”
The images displayed are an extension of a series of portraits published over 15 years ago, when Susan Sontag inspired and worked with Leibovitz to realize a book of images centered on women.
But Leibovitz wasn’t sure of the project at first. “It was Susan Sontag’s idea and I was reluctant,” she revealed. “I was concerned to take it on, accepting as big and broad a [project] as Women. It was like going out and photographing the sea, the ocean.”
Defined by Sontag as a “work in progress”, the portraits aim to reflect the changes of the women’s role in contemporary society, portraying personalities who achieved accomplishments in the world of art, music, business, sport and philanthropy. “It’s important to see who we are, how diverse we are, how confident we can be, what we are doing. We need to like ourselves, we need more understanding, we need more work on these issues,” said Leibovitz.
The photographer revealed she was impressed by the outcome of the original project and noticed how “the biggest difference with 1999 is that I see a whole sense of confidence, that wasn’t quite there before.”
In the new series, Leibovitz wanted to include portraits of singer Adele, Burmese politician San Suu Kyi, ballet dancer Misty Copeland, comedian Amy Schumer, women’s right lawyer Andrea Medina Rosas and writer and activist Gloria Steinem, among others.
The photographer shared anecdotes regarding some of her shooting sessions, including the ones with Patti Smith (“I’m very lucky, as I photographed people over and over again, and Patti is one of these”); tennis champion Serena Williams (“I wanted Serena to be on the cover of Vogue, I was glad she made it,”), and TV producer and writer Shonda Rhimes, whom Leibovitz shot in the reproduction of the Oval Office on the set of “Scandal,” sitting on the chair with her feet on the desk. “I just love the audacity and her confidence,” said the photographer.
Asked about an eventual trip to the real Oval Office, to portray the candidate slated to be the first woman president of the United States, Leibovitz sounded confident and said “I plan to do it. [Hillary Clinton] is going to be our next president.”
Meanwhile, another woman is next on the photographer’s list. “Miuccia Prada is going to sit on Friday. I worked with her before and I asked her to be in this series and she has agreed, so she is coming up,” revealed Leibovitz, saying, “I have a lot of respect for her and for what she’s done.”
In addition to the new images, the exhibit features portraits from the 1999 project and unpublished shots, displayed through three big screens. The 37 new photographs will be part of the UBS Art Collection, which, counting more than 30,000 works, is one of the most important art contemporary collections held by a private group worldwide.
The show is also flanked by a series of free programs related to photography, including a laboratory with students of three Italian institutes — Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, IED Istituto Europeo di Design and IIF Istituto Italiano di Fotografia — a program for teachers in association with the New York’s International Center of Photography, and free labs for families in the weekends.