Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reading Women

I am never up to the minute except by accident. Just now I am fascinated by a book that was important when it was published in 1999, Women, photographs by Annie Leibovitz, introductory essay by Susan Sontag. If you do not love the way you look, I recommend this book. It was meant to let us see women's depth and character.

Sontag's writing impresses me; she is so well-read that her statements have a forthright authority. Here is one that got me thinking.

There were always several kinds of beauty: imperious beauty, voluptuous beauty, beauty signifying the character traits that fitted a woman for the confines of genteel domesticity--docility, pliancy, serenity. Beauty was not just loveliness of feature and expression, an aesthetic ideal. It also spoke to the eye about the virtues deemed essential in women.

For a woman to be intelligent was not essential, not even particularly appropriate. It was in fact considered disabling . . .

As it chances, I am up to date today; an exhibit of Annie Liebowitz' photography just opened at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It includes the celebrity photography for which she is famous. She could make the camera display beauty while commenting on its artificial and binding nature.

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