World's strongest women portrayed in arresting series of images

Story highlights

  • Annie Leibovitz's latest exhibition, "Women: New Portraits", has opened in Hong Kong
  • Malala Yousafzai and Aung San Suu Kyi are among the influential women to feature in Leibovitz's striking portraits

Hong Kong (CNN)Annie Leibovitz's new exhibition, "Women: New Portraits" has found itself an unlikely home.

More likely to be found in a conventional gallery or on pristine white walls, here the seminal photographer's portraits are housed in an old industrial building in Hong Kong's up-and-coming Kennedy Town district.
    "I remember coming to the city on several occasions, looking for old Hong Kong and not finding it," Leibovitz tells CNN. "So, it's a remarkable space. It's cool. I like to have (my) work rhyme or unrhyme with the space if possible."
    Visitors take a windowless goods lift up to the third floor of the gritty industrial building. A green accordion elevator gate folds back to reveal an unassuming raw space filled with images of some of the world's most powerful and influential women.
    Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg are just some of the women to feature among the striking portraits that adorn the walls.
    The photographs add to Leibovitz's weighty portfolio of strong females she started over fifteen years ago with her seminal "Women" project -- a series of photos that were born from a collaboration with author Susan Sontag and which were first presented as a book and exhibition in 1999.
    "It was scary at the time to undertake a subject like that because I was actually against it, because I thought it was too broad of a subject," Leibovitz says of her initial reservations with that series.
    "I thought it was like going out to photograph the sea or the ocean, and it wasn't going to be possible to really get a hook into it."
    Annie Leibovitz on her work past and present
    Annie Leibovitz on her work past and present

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    A hook was never going to be a problem. Leibovitz's world-famous image of Yoko Ono and John Lennon wrapped in a nude embrace -- a photo she took for Rolling Stone just a few hours before Lennon was shot -- is just one of the many hugely influential photographs to feature in the exhibition.
    Nearby are four full-color images of dolled up Las Vegas showgirls. Next to them, a black and white portrait of each woman without makeup or costume, humanizing their roles outside of work.
    "Just to see all the diversity...the original project had really good bones. It had teachers, coal miners, school teachers, homeless (people)..."
    The new project builds on these foundations with contemporary heroes like Caitlyn Jenner and Misty Copeland. UBS, the Swiss financial services company who commissioned the new portraits, says the collection portrays women of "outstanding achievement" -- which include artists, musicians, CEOs, politicians, writers and philanthropists.
    The exhibition is being shown in ten cities around the world -- next stop is Mexico City.
    CNN's Kristie Lu Stout sits down with Annie Leibovitz for an upcoming episode of Talk Asia. The pair discuss the photographer's most memorable images, the age of social media, Donald Trump and the Kardashians. The full interview airs on Thursday July 7th at 4:30p HKT.
    'Women: New Portraits' is on display from June 3 to June 26 at the Cheung Hing Industrial Building, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong.