Today in London's Wapping Hydraulic Power Station celebrated American photographer Annie Leibovitz launched the next phase of a series she began over 15 years ago; a series which, even now, is still not actually finished.
Misty Copeland, by Annie Leibovitz
"WOMEN: New Portraits"
is an exhibition of newly commissioned portraits which will form the basis of a unique traveling exhibition. Over the next 12 months it will be shown in ten cities -- beginning in London this weekend, before moving to Tokyo, San Francisco, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico, Istanbul, Frankfurt, New York and Zurich. Staged as more of an installation, the new exhibition continues the work of the initial series, featuring outstanding, diverse, women including the likes of Aung San Suu Kyi, Amy Schumer and Adele.
Prompted by writer and cultural analyst Susan Sontag, Leibovitz initially published "Women" in 1999 as both a book and exhibition. Featuring women from all walks of life -- from Las Vegas showgirls to the First Lady -- it was hugely successful and widely recognized as a collective portrait of the American woman at that time, laying bare their outstanding achievements alongside the challenges they still faced.
Leibovitz was well aware of the remarkably vast nature of the subject and admits she wasn't convinced at first: "when Susan suggested it," she told CNN's Christiane Amanpour
, "I just thought it was a bad idea because it was too big. How can you do it?" Even now she likens the task to, "going out and photographing the ocean".
Leibovitz: Amy Schumer 'knows what she's doing'
It is a project the photographer knew could never really be over, mirroring the continued evolution of women in society. Susan Sontag herself once called it "a work in progress". As Leibovitz explained, "With the initial women's project it was such a surprise to see what we looked like and I think that was as far as I took it. [But] it doesn't stop with the book, it doesn't stop with 1999. There was a great deal of interest with that project and when I had this opportunity to add to the book, to the project, I grabbed it."
Today's unveiling in many ways signals a beginning rather than an end. We were told that the series would be added to over the next 12 months with subjects like activist Malala Yousafzai and artist Marina Abramovic still to be photographed.
She looks beyond gender, beyond stereotypes, beyond masks of the day to show us that everything alive is both universal and unique.
This idea of evolution is a key facet of the series' new phase -- examining the ways in which the role of women has changed by presenting images from the 1999 series alongside the new, as well as relevant unpublished work by Leibovitz taken since.
Speaking at the press launch today she commented on the process of choosing subjects explaining that, "in some ways it was easier than in 1999", using actress Lupita Nyong'o as an example of how diversity in culture in particular has progressed. It was Leibovitz herself who, only last November, unveiled her drastically different take on the usually raunchy Pirelli calendar
-- a broad range of ages and backgrounds including the likes of Patti Smith, Yoko Ono and Serena Williams -- all, mostly, fully clothed.
Yao Chen, the first Chinese UNHCR goodwill ambassador, is among the notable women of the 2016 Pirelli calendar. Credit: Annie Leibovitz/Pirelli
As the 43rd edition of the Pirelli calendar demonstrated Leibovitz is no stranger to being in the spotlight. Widely considered to be one of America's best portrait photographers, she has captured everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to Caitlyn Jenner. She initially gained prominence for her work in the 1970s for Rolling Stone magazine, being the last person to professionally photograph John Lennon just hours before he was shot and becoming the official photographer for the Rolling Stones'1975 world tour. Her work with Vanity Fair and Vogue has become the stuff of legend producing, albeit often contentious, images of Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Miley Cyrus, and yes, the famous Caitlyn cover.
Annie Leibovitz stands with Sergio P Ermotti, Group CEO, UBS at the launch of the 'WOMEN:New Portraits' exhibition at Wapping Hydraulic Power Station. Credit: Peter Macdiarmid/PKM/Peter Macdiarmid
Given that she herself is a woman highly qualified in her field, Leibovitz is well positioned to take on the task of capturing some of the world's most outstanding females. As Sontag passed away in 2004, Leibovitz was helped this time by famed feminist, activist and journalist Gloria Steinem -- who was in attendance at the launch today. Her description of the photographer in the exhibition's introduction says it all: "...she looks beyond gender, beyond stereotypes, beyond masks of the day to show us that everything alive is both universal and unique. Including me, including you."
"WOMEN: New Portraits" runs from January 16 to February 7, 2016 at Wapping Hydraulic Power Station.