Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Vanity Fair Exhibit

I went to see the Vanity Fair Portrait Exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum last night. I was quite looking forward to seeing this collection of photos, as I've always been a fan of Vanity Fair magazine and admired the stunning photos that they showcase. I am especially in awe of photographer Annie Leibovitz, who took several of the amazing photos that appear in this show. But she has not been their only notable photographer in recent years, as this collection clearly attests.

I was not disappointed, it was a very entertaining exhibit, on many levels. It also made me nostalgic for past visits to the National Portrait Gallery in London, England, also a collaborator in putting this show together.

There are approximately 150 portraits altogether, displayed amongst the sharp angles of the new Crystal addition to the Museum. The photos are divided into two time periods - from 1913 to 1936 and also from 1983 to the present. Of course, the older photos are all taken in black and white but that only adds to their appeal, as far as I am concerned. As much as I loved to look at the pictures themselves, I also enjoyed reading the little writeup that was posted beside each, describing both the subject and the photographer.

I didn't recognize many of the names of the older photographers or even some of the subjects from that day, certain writers or ballerinas or choreographers that must have been very popular at the time but haven't remained familiar to all but a select few of today's audience. Others, especially the movie stars from that golden age of Old Hollywood, as well as the subjects of the majority of the newer photos were immediately recognizable. Some of the pictures are positively iconic - the Demi Moore shot with her holding her naked and very pregnant stomach, Jack Nicholson hitting golf balls in his bathrobe. It got me thinking about the nature of celebrity, a topic that has sort of been on everyone's mind this week as the whole Tiger Woods infidelity saga has unfolded. It's definitely a double-edged sword these days - no doubt being famous has its perks when things are going well, but when things are bad, you'd probably rather be invisible than have to have everyone watching and commenting on every intimate detail of your personal life.

There is also an exhibit by Canadian photographer Nigel Dickson currently showing, a collection of portraits of famous Canadians such as athletes, prime ministers and prominent business people, including former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson (left), who was being phtorgraphed for Owl magazine - hence the large owlish glasses! Individuals who are probably not nearly as well known to anyone who is not Canadian perhaps, but celebrities in our little world all the same.

I bought the book that goes with the Vanity Fair display and I'm looking forward to going through it slowly to savour each photo again (although unfortunately, the little descriptive stories posted beside each photo are not reproduced in the book.) The cover shot, shown above, is of Gloria Swanson, whom I only knew from the movie "Sunset Boulevard" so I was fascinated to see this photo of her at a much younger age.

Both exhibits are worth seeing but if you're interested, you'd better hurry - they're only there until January 3, 2010.

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