By Friday afternoon the image had made its way to Huffington Post… via a couple other bloggers*…
I don’t have a clue who staged the photo to recreate the WWI poster, nor do I know what their intent may have been; but I can understand — given historical precedents — how many people will be outraged if/when this relationship hits the wider media, beyond the Intertubes.
But before I let Annie Liebovitz completely off the hook, I need to note that, in my surfing about on this subject, it’s become apparent that Liebovitz has a penchant for such recreations; e.g. (h/t Jezebel) What I’m beginning to wonder, now, is whether Liebovitz may not have been trying to draw attention to a book by Stuart Ewen and Elizabeth Ewen, Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Human Inequality (h/t forgotten) — a book whose “newly revised, paperback edition”, coincidentally, hit the stores at about the same time as the controversial Vogue issue. Things that make you go hmmmm…
Oh, the cover of the book may seem familiar:
Lastly, I must note that both Phawker (3/17) and Jezebel (3/25) had ref’d the WWI propaganda poster before I was ever aware of the Vogue controversy and before my nephew made me aware of the poster; however, both sites failed to push the connection between the poster and the cover photo, opting, instead, to simply embed a pic of the poster in each of their articles.
* Unfortunately, because Cadenhead opted not to credit the source of his information in his initial posts on the subject, the Huffington Post blogger, Danny Shea, missed the mention of DU in Cadenhead’s later, expanded post to the ‘Watching the Watchers’ website:
… who credits his nephew.
Annie Leibovitz Monkeys Around with LeBron James
The cover of April’s edition of Vogue has generated controversy over how NBA star LeBron James is depicted with model Gisele Bundchen. Some critics have alleged that the picture, taken by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz, makes him look like King Kong carrying off Fay Wray, a racially loaded simian metaphor. Others don’t see it at all, suggesting that James is demonstrating the same intensity he shows on the court and people are trying too hard to be offended. A comparison between the cover and a World War I recruitment poster should settle the argument. Leibovitz was clearly, unmistakeably using one of the world’s most famous black men to portray a ferocious gorilla carrying off a white woman.
Look at the images side by side and you’ll see how many different ways they match: The positions of James and Bundchen, the way he holds his mouth, the color of his clothes, the color of her dress, the curls of her hair, the placement of her feet inside his and his arm around her waist, the basketball in the club hand, and his hunched-over posture.
Leibovitz, who has a history of referencing iconic images in her photographs, appropriated the composition from a famous poster that’s believed to be an inspiration for the film King Kong. The comparison was brought to light by K.R. Kaufman on the online community Democratic Underground.
Defending the cover, James told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “It wasn’t a situation we’re being rough or looking mean. Just showing a little emotion. We had a few looks and that was the best one we had.”
His comments raise the question of whether he knows that Leibovitz was recreating the poster and putting him in the role of a woman-lusting gorilla. James, an internationally hyped basketball star since high school who’s now 24, has been as carefully managed and marketed during his career as a new soft drink. He has a net worth exceeding $200 million, a publicly stated goal of earning $1 billion and endorsement deals with Nike, Sprite, Upper Deck, Powerade and Bubblicious bubble gum.
Instead of mapping this argument into the familiar political correctness template, where one side expresses outrage at racial slight and the other derides them as publicity-seeking getalifes, we should be discussing whether America’s most renowned celebrity photographer let James know what she was doing to his image.
Leibovitz, who courted controversy in 1991 by depicting an extremely pregnant Demi Moore in the nude on Vanity Fair and has taken many other provocative photos in her storied career, is far too accomplished a photographer to have done this by accident. Her depiction of James could generously be interpreted as a wry commentary on how far we’ve come in 90 years. Bundchen, unlike the aghast Lady Liberty being carried off by a depraved German invader, is joyous.
I wonder if James, presented with the two images, would be as generous.
Annie Leibovitz Called Out for ‘Artful Borrowing’
Last week, a Vanity Fair spokeswoman acknowledged that the May cover shot by Annie Leibovitz was “inspired” by “Ballet Society,” a 1948 portrait by Irving Penn.
April 17, 2006
For years a certain photographer has been calling us up to complain about Annie Leibovitz‘ penchant for recreating famous photographs and passing them off as original compositions. We usually chalked up the accusations to jealousy, and thought nothing more.
Now comes new evidence that our original source was right. Women’s Wear Daily reported last week on the Vanity Fair photographer’s “artful borrowing.” WWD reporter Jeff Bercovici wrote that “a spokeswoman for the magazine acknowledged Wednesday that the cover photo of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Al Gore, shot by Annie Leibovitz, was ‘inspired’ by ‘Ballet Society,’ a 1948 portrait by Irving Penn of George Balanchine and three collaborators.”
Bercovici goes on to write: “Although there’s no mention anywhere in the magazine of the connection, the composition of the two photos is virtually identical, down to the leafy garland on Roberts’ head. Coincidentally, the issue’s letters page contains a reader’s observation that the March cover’s layout, with a nude Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley beside a clothed Tom Ford, was similar to Edouard Manet‘s 1863 painting, ‘Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe.’ Leibovitz also shot that cover.”
Leibovitz is by any account one of her generation’s greatest photographers, but as the evidence of her “artful borrowing” piles up, it’s hard not to see a little chink in her armor. But is she solely responsible for the blame? Surely the magazine’s editors don’t believe Leibovitz is inventing these poses out of whole cloth, right?
And none of this takes into account the amount of digital compositing that goes into the final image. You don’t actually think she got Kennedy, Clooney, Roberts and Gore in the same room at the same time to take the photograph do you?
Jay DeFoore can be reached at email@example.com.
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