Reflecting a work in progress

People who visit Annie Leibovitz's latest exhibition, Women: New Portraits, should not expect a slick gallery show. It is presented at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the setting is "anti-museum", as the star photographer herself puts it.

And that is her intention. The show debuted in London at Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, a space that offers a glimpse into the city's industrial history.

In Singapore, the venue was one of several proposed by the photographer's team and she chose it because of her interest in architecture and history.

Yesterday, addressing groups of students from Lasalle College of the Arts and staff from Swiss banking giant UBS, which is backing the show, she said: "What an incredible building... except for the sound."

She explained the raw touches and slightly unfinished look to the exhibition.

"This is a work in progress and the exhibition needed to reflect that," she said.

It opens to the public tomorrow and runs until May 22.

Entry is free.

Singapore is part of a global tour covering 10 cities, including Tokyo, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Istanbul, Frankfurt, New York and Zurich.

Women: New Portraits re-visits a project that started more than 15 years ago. In 1999, her book, titled Women, was published.

It featured images of women, including United States presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, coal miners, athletes, surgeons, socialites and soldiers.

The late Susan Sontag, a well-known American writer and intellectual, and Leibovitz's long-time partner, contributed an essay.

The new portraits feature women with outstanding achievements, including artists, musicians, chief executives, politicians, writers and philanthropists such as Nobel Prize winning teenage activist Malala Yousafzai and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Moving away from the dramatic compositions she is famous for, Leibovitz captures several of her subjects in natural settings.

Ms Sandberg, for instance, is in high heels, legs crossed, leaning in as she looks at her lens. Writer and feminist Gloria Steinem is pictured in her study.

Stripped of drama, they make the narrative real.

As Leibovitz, 66, said: "I care about what someone does more than what they look like. I like to photograph people who have a sense of confidence of who they are."

This comes through in the portraits. There is a quiet confidence in Ms Yousafzai, who was photographed in her school in Birmingham.

Leibovitz calls her "a very important person for me to add to the show".

The exhibition also includes work from the original series, as well as unpublished photographs. None of the images are for sale.

The new photographs form part of the UBS Art Collection.

Yesterday, eight Straits Times readers got a sneak peek of the exhibition and attended Leibovitz's lunch-time talk.

The winners were picked in a lucky draw, having answered a simple question about the exhibition.

They also received a signed copy of Annie Leibovitz At Work, priced at $55, and a Polaroid snap camera priced at $108.

Marketing executive Amaranta Lim, 38, one of the winners, said: "I was expecting it to be a bit bigger, but this is a good effort."

Artist and senior lecturer at Lasalle College of the Arts Adeline Kueh, who attended the morning talk, called Leibovitz "very generous".

She says: "Annie offered aspiring photographers real motivation as she spoke of the need to believe in oneself, to reflect on the works made and images taken.

Her back stories about several images that are part of the exhibition revealed her desire to portray the heroes in their quiet, everyday element."

At one point, as the space got humid, Leibovitz whispered to the organisers to distribute bottled water to the audience. It was a gesture that did not go unnoticed.

Ms Kueh says: "She is as much a hero as the great women in her portraits."


WHERE: Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, 30 Keppel Road, Main Hall

WHEN: Tomorrow to May 22, 10am to 6pm daily, till 8pm on Friday



This article was first published on April 28, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.