Life Through a Lens… Annie Leibovitz

6 Nov

Life Through a Lens is a wonderful documentary about the life of legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz.  I throughly enjoyed learning about her early history with Rolling Stone Magazine, and progression from being a rock and roll photographer to multifaceted artist.  Having a background in fashion, I can remember very distinct instances flipping through issues of Vogue admiring her incredible photographs.  Like with any established and revered artist you can see their signature stamp and the documentary did a really incredible job at explaining how Leibovitz came to develop that thought-provoking style of hers.  It is hard to explain but you can always point out a Annie Leibovitz photograph.  The documentary made me think of the movie Almost Famous, where the teenage boy follows a big band for a magazine story.  I wondered if this was based on Leibovitz’s life since her method of achieving those great photographs was by joining the tour of famous artists, being enveloped in their daily lives, and capturing the most candid photos.  Another interesting side of the documentary was her personal life, we see that she is a huge family person and that she had a partner who passed away.  Life Through a Lens, was a great insight into the life of famed photographer.

Self portrait of Annie Leibovitz.

I love the story behind this photo of Fleetwood Mac, Leibovitz pictured them all on this bed together with linens strewn amongst them.  It was symbolic of their highly complicated relationships with one another.

My favorite photograph of Kristen Dunst and Jason Schwartzman for American Vogue.


Infinite Balance: Artists and the Environment

26 Oct

This past weekend I ventured out to Balboa Park to the Museum of Photographic Arts for the Infinite Balance exhibit.   This was my first time being at the Museum of Photographic Arts so it was an exciting experience for me.  The Infinite Balance: Artists and the Environment exhibit was a collection works from renowned artists like Edward Burtynsky, pertaining to the environment.  Most importantly these works show the influence of man’s consumption on the environment.  Since we had already watched Manufactured Landscapes for class this was a great way to further our discussion in class and widen our scope of artists working sensitive subjects like this.

One of the first pieces I looked at was one by Edward Burtynsky, of the recent oil spill in the Mexican Gulf.  It was this huge aerial photo of islands in the gulf affected by this spill.  We all have watched the coverage of the oil spill on the news but to see Burtynsky’s photograph of the spill was somewhat surreal.  While these are severe incidents of environmental destruction there is a contradictory aspect to it all.  Because the photograph is so beautiful to look at, with the acid green patches of land with perfectly carved channels of water navigating through them, you sometimes forget what is actually going on there. I felt like this for all of the works there, you almost are remorseful because it is difficult to not say that they are incredibly interesting and beautiful but in reality these are instances of destruction and death.

The most poignant and favorite series was from Seattle based artist, Chris Jordan, who photographed decaying carcasses of albatrosses.  These serious of photographs did not even seem real at all.  Here you see this naturally living thing internally littered with unnatural man-made items like cigarette lighters, bottle caps, plastics and debris.  It was so heartbreaking to see the exposed stomachs of the dead birds literally filled with various forms of plastics.  It shows how our wasteful and careless consumption directly affects other beings.

The exhibit ended with series of works done by artist Yao Lu.  Growing up in a Vietnamese/Chinese household I am quite familiar with Chinese art like woodblock printing and brush painting, so at first glance I perceived Yao Lu’s prints as brush paintings not actual photographs.  However, at closer inspection you could see the ethereal green mountains were not fictional brush strokes but actual photographs of piles of rubbish.  Lu was amazing at portraying the environmental issues in a way that was clever and evocative of Chinese culture.  I was amazed of how smart the pieces were, you have a juxtaposition of a modern consumerist culture inside this ancient painting.

After attending the exhibit and watching Wasteland and Manufactured Landscapes, it was nice to see that artists are using their skills to for the good of society.  I feel like art is usually considered a luxury for the wealthy so it is refreshing to see that this art helps the environment.

Manufactured Landscapes by Jennifer Baichwal

19 Oct

Manufactured Landscapes is a documentary film about photographer Richard Burtynsky’s work all over the world.  In class we watched a few segments from the film but I also watched the entire film at home.  Manufactured Landscapes is just as the name implies,  the man-made landscapes whether natural or disruptions of natural occurrences.  While Burtynsky’s original intentions were just to portray these massive created landscapes, this film also serves (well for me) as an environmental awareness message.  It is just incredible some of the conditions these people have to live/work in, for instance the oil rig cleaners in Bangladesh, or the e-waste  salvagers in China.  Not only is the Earth being severly being destroyed by our consumption, humans are also being affected negatively because  of it as well.  The photos in the film served as striking reminders of the impact us humans have on the earth.


American Me by Edward James Olmos

19 Oct

American Me directed and starring Edward James Olmos, is a biographical drama about the Mexican mafia culture and also prison culture.  While the film was too graphic and gritty for my liking it was very interesting how much gang life was apart of Mexican-American society in Los Angeles.  It was almost inevitable that someone would have a gang member affiliation to their family, and you can see that even though it served as a way to protect their families, it in turn destroyed them as well.  While watching the film I kept wondering how this could be related to our class, so I am very curious to see how our discussions will be.  Overall, the film was a interesting account of how life was in East Los Angeles, but personally it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Buena Vista Social Club by Wim Wenders

12 Oct

Buena Vista Social Club was a very interesting to me in the fact that I have seen very little photographs or videos inside Cuba so it was intriguing to see what the country looked like.  While the country looked very impoverished there was something beautiful about the colors and the old architecture of Havana.  Prior to this I didn’t have much exposure to Cuban music so I found the music in the film to be very entertaining as well.  There are parts of the film where I thought dragged on a bit, but I believe that was because of the format of the film, in which each artist was introduced one by one.  One artist that really stuck out to me was Omara Portuondo, I found not only was her smokey voice very unique sounding but her personality as well.  I loved the scene where she is walking through the streets of Cuba in her long color gown singing with locals.  While some people did not know what the Buena Vista Social Club was, I felt like those who did know, held reverence for the club’s performers. Which is why Carnegie Hall was such a good fit to hold their concert.  Overall, Buena Vista Social Club was an interesting look into a fleeting world that I would have never been exposed to.




Billy Elliot by Stephen Daldry

5 Oct

“Billy Elliot” is a story about a young boy who secretly takes ballet lessons and is able to overcome many obstacles such as his families predetermined ideas on masculinity and economic status.  What i enjoyed the most about the film is the way Billy was was able to change his father and brother’s mind about the art of ballet.  There was a great sense of worry from them that ballet wasn’t masculine enough for him but he proved them wrong and was able to change his family’s opinion through his talent.  It was really touching to see how much confidence Billy’s ballet teacher had in him, to the point where she was willing to dedicated time to privately train him for free and even offer to pay for his fare to London.  In away she was like the mother figure that Billy missed out on.  Another interesting thing about the movie was how it combined music of the era and region like U2 and British Punk with classical music like Tchaikovky.  I think it added a nice contrast between Irish culture and the high-bow art of ballet.  Like “Wasteland” last week, “Billy Elliot” is another example of how art can deliver you to greatness.

Wasteland by Vik Muniz (Directed by Lucy Walker)

28 Sep

“Wasteland” is a sensational documentary following world-renowned artist Vik Muniz as he spent 3 years in Brazil at Jardim Gramacho, a garbage landfill where its workers manually handpick recyclable materials from the debris.  The workers or also known as “pickers” work in very dangerous and unsanitary conditions day and night sorting through mountainous piles of debris collected all over Rio de Janeiro.  I have heard about and seen about the work that Vik Muniz did at the wasteland but I never understood the scope of his work in Brazil.  What I found so touching about the film was Vik’s relationship with these workers, and how fearless he was to go out there with time in the landfill despite the conditions.  I found the worker’s attitudes and opinions about working in the landfill were so positive and uplifting.  Even though their work was very grueling and hard never once did they express any embarrassment of their occupation.  Everyone was very positive and proud of their profession and that they were making an honest living, considering Brazil is rampant with drug trade and prostitution.

While all of the works featured in the film were all beautiful, I picked the one of Tiao and Suelem for my post.  It is so incredible to scale of this work and that all of these people were involved in the making of the art.  Muniz mentioned in the film that he did this so that they could know that they did this for themselves and that it wasn’t just him.  And I think through this project these people left with a greater sense of accomplishment and empowerment.  Muniz said, “I used to have nothing nothing and wanted everything, but now I have everything and want nothing,” and that is probably why Muniz felt so compelled to dedicate three years helping these people through what he knew, art.  “Wasteland” is a wonderful example of how art can transform lives in unexpected and profound ways.