Friday, December 18, 2009

A Visit to the Annenberg Space for Photography

For several months I have been hearing about the new photography gallery called The Annenberg Space for Photography. I’d also heard that there was an exhibit up of the works of Walter Iooss and Neil Leifer, two veteran Sports Illustrated sports photographers. I’m not big on sports photography anymore, since I don’t follow organized sports, but I do know how to do sports photography and more importantly I know greatness. And these guys are great. Of course “great” in photography often goes according to the “f/8 and be there!” rule. Neil Leifer may fit into that category with his persistence, work ethic and willingness to shoot anything and everything, but Walter Iooss has a more artistic attitude and bent. And I think both of them communicate this well in the video interviews that accompany the several hundred photos.

One does not have to be a sports fan to appreciate the unique beauty and appeal in these photos, but for those who are sports fans and not photography aficionados, they too will appreciate the talent and vision expressed here.

I would guess that there are probably about 100 photos by each photographer in the entire exhibit. Many of these photos are prints on the walls, or video stills on the many monitors that are also on the walls, but most of the photos are best seen on the giant screen video monitor in the central Digital Gallery. This display intersperses the photographs with a long interview with the photographers and several of their many subjects.

For example, we see several photos of Jackie Joyner-Kersee including a series Walter shot with her, and these are interspersed with JJK talking about being an athlete and working with the photographer, and what the photos mean to her both as an observer of them as well as the subject that was being observed by the photographs, and by us the viewer. She is the most expressive of the people interviewed, which includes other athletes as well as colleagues and editors at SI. One thing I learned was that Walter Iooss was the guy who started the “tradition” of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition when, in the sports doldrums of late winter he suggested shooting some models in swimsuits in the tropics. That idea would certainly come from Walter - one can tell just from watching and hearing him that he enjoys life.

Both Leifer and Iooss started with SI as teenagers in the late 50s. I was pleased to hear both Walter and one of the older editors give credit to the photographers who preceded them and taught them, and helped them along. One of these was John Zimmerman, who I had the honor and pleasure to work with a few times as he was transitioning from semi-retirement to fully retired. I am not of the caliber of Walter Iooss - or John Zimmerman - but it was nice to hear a photographer of the stature of WI give credit to JZ. One night on location with John he talked about his experience shooting for SI, especially in the tropics and the wilds of Africa, and what it was like to work with Walter and Julie and many of the people he worked for. It would be nice to someday find an exhibition of JZ’s work.

I took the small camera with me and though I didn’t take any pictures of the photos on exhibit, I took a couple of exterior shots of the gallery’s sign, and one interior shot of the back wall of Wally’s Cafe. This is a small space inside the gallery that really looks like a modern kitchen, though in the photo you can see that the back wall has a nice collection of books and wine.

The rest of the gallery is essentially wide hallway spaces with prints and monitors, and a room with a large monitor, all arrayed around the main digital gallery. The whole space is smaller than you might think given the name of Annenberg and the location in Century City, but the smallish size keeps the feel of the place intimate. There is some cutting edge technology (for mid 2009), including the main display in the main gallery and a small promo space with a pair of Microsoft table computers. (These aren’t tablet computers, but the coffee tables that are actually computer monitors with touch screens that allow you to move the 10 or so display photos around on the monitor, to orient them and to resize them. (You’ll get the full effect within about two minutes.) One other piece of great technology is the programming that leads the main show, the interview and photo show on the main screen. I don’t know what program the designers used, but the show is very good and whoever put together the animation and production was obviously professional.

The photo at the top is the best picture I got of the exterior sign, and the interior space of Wally’s cafe is on my Flickr page. I also took some pictures of the big buildings that make up the Culver Plaza, and some of these are interesting too with the reflections of the late afternoon three days before winter solstice. Take a look at them.

Update: I forgot to mention that, in addition to the main exhibit of Iooss and Leifer, there was a small video exhibit running in the Workshop Area that included The Art of Surf Photography, which featured Brewer, and The Science of Hitting, which featured a former journeyman major league catcher (that I’d never heard of). The piece on Brewer and surf photography was kind of interesting, especially since he has been doing surf photography since before the short board renaissance, and has pictures that cover the timeline since then, with action surf and studio shots of the people.

No comments: