Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Photo Review: Qaddafi's Face, Rhianna's Behind, Immortal Elizabeth Taylor

As usual, my weekly review of selected photos from newspapers and magazines is up at Le Lettre de la Photographie. Also as usual, here is a sampling:

1. Go, Muammar, Go

You say Gaddafi, I say any language the dictator is a menace. The rest of the world learned to live with him because he's got oil, but then came the Arab Revolution. Then came the Arab Revolution of 2011, and a popular uprising, and a counter-attack by his government forces, and a no-fly zone enforced by a coalition of Western governments that used to buy his oil, and now Fareed Zakaria wonders in the April 4 issue of Time what might happen if Qaddafi (or Gaddafi, if you prefer) manages to hang onto power. That's a lot of narrative to express in one cover photo. The magazine went with a 2009 portrait taken by photographer Platon when the Libyan leader was visiting the United Nations in New York. (Read about the making of the photo here, especially the part about Qaddafi being surrounded by female body guards.) In this picture, crazy Muammar doesn't look crazy; shot from a relatively low level, the image communicates his power, and, in the curled upper lip, a sense of his cruelty.
2. Behind the Scenes with Rhianna

Recently I praised Annie Leibovitz's Vogue cover shot of Rhianna; she also covers the April 14 issue of Rolling Stone. Mark Seliger's portrait is a bit...trashier than Annie's, but Rolling Stone's readers are a bit different from Vogue's. Miraculously, Rhianna's appeal seems span the entire popular culture. (Poor Britney Spears--the cover make the explicit point that she is no longer the queen of pop. Her comeback? Oh, it's monster, which is not the same as monstrous, but whatever.)  I read one blog speculating that Rhainna's shorts were painted on, but I can't swear to it.

3. Remembering Her

If you are like me--and let's both hope you're not--you read a number of tributes to Elizabeth Taylor this past week. My favorite was in Time (Qaddafi on the cover). The great Richard Corliss wrote this about her: "Many talented tyros had been bred in the studio hothouse, but in the '40s, none came to flower so luxuriantly; in the '50s, none found so bracing a challenge in Hollywood's search for artistic maturity; and in the '60s, when the system collapsed, none survived it so craftily as Taylor did." Accompanying Corliss's essay was this portrait of Taylor and Montgomery Clift, her greatest costar, made on the Paramount lot in 1950 by Life magazine photographer Peter Stackpole. These people were professionals, and they knew what they were doing--her breasts and bottom jutting in opposite directions, his right hand giving an award-winning stand-in performance. Today's tastes require more forthright symbolism, of course--Rhianna with painted-on cutoff shorts, for instance.

4.  Remembering Reality

I will conclude with a portrait that has nothing to do with popular culture. This image, by Carlos Barria for Reuters, shows a woman examining the ground where her house once stood in the town of Kesennuma, in northern Japan. It was destroyed, completely, by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11. Pictures tell us so much, and yet they can be so elusive and frustrating. When I first saw this, I took the woman's gestures for sad resignation, perhaps mild shock. She may in fact be feeling those things, but her hands are in fact at her face because she is talking on a cell phone.

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