1. When winning the debate isn’t good enough!

Apparently, this photographer has a history of ‘artful borrowing’ that predates the Lebron photo shoot. Her inspiration for the cover shot may even predate the 1933 film, ‘King Kong’ and go back to a 1917 poster shown below. If that is the case I can only say that it’s pure, sick, unadulterated genius on the part Ann Leibowitz! I no longer feel as though I could successfully maintain that it’s not racial type argument, however I think it may actually lean toward a man bashing and heterosexual, feminine woman bashing article. If I did not know better I would say that Annie was a jilted, (butch) lesbian lover who’s bi-sexual (feminine) female lover just left her for an African-American man. Things usually never play out so neat, as to explain this shot, but it’s possible. As an artist, most of your best work spills over from your experiences (‘art imitating life’), and God help you if you’re the inspiration for such a vicious display. I have no idea if Ann Leibowitz is lesbian or not and I equally have no knowledge if she ever been jilted in such a way, but you have to admit that if this 1917 poster was her inspiration… she has had the last laugh! Sorry to Dr. Mangum for the resistance to your perspective, however it would appear that ‘King Kong’ was not even the point. I’ve even heard a rumor that the ‘King Kong’ movie poster may have even been inspired by this 1917 recruitment poster. I guess the question that remains (if any of this is true), is what kind of association is Leibowitz making between the German threat of WWI and the African-American male today… do we even know her (Ann’s) ethnicity?
Posted by krkaufman in General Discussion
Mon Mar 31st 2008, 10:14 AM
I’ve been posting since last Thursday AM (3/27), based on a tip from my nephew Weds night, that the Vogue cover photo is based on a WWI military recruitment propaganda poster, and started posting a side-by-side image to illustrate the point. (see here for a detailed list of the similarities)

By Friday afternoon the image had made its way to Huffington Post… via a couple other bloggers*…

Now, Sportsfilter blogger Rogers Cadenhead (via Portfolio.com’s Jeff Bercovici) uncovered a possible (likely) inspiration for the Annie Liebovitz shoot: a famous World War I recruitment poster from 1917.
The poster, which shows a gorilla and says “Destroy This Brute,” would seem to justify any sort of outrage over the racial stereotypes perpetuated by the Vogue cover.

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:

The comparison was brought to light by K.R. Kaufman on the online community Democratic Underground.

… who credits his nephew.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Annie Leibovitz Monkeys Around with LeBron James

Commentary By Rogers Cadenhead

Watching the Watchers

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.

Here’s the poster, “Destroy This Mad Brute,” alongside the Vogue cover:

LeBron James and Gisele compared to Destroy This Mad Brute military recruitment poster

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 jdefoore@hfmus.com.


UN Photo Contest Focuses on World Foods
Columbia Announces 2008 Pulitzer Prizes
Disposable Cameras Help Rural Afghani Students Document School Conditions
Living Large
Inside the Box

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s