Currently hanging at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Annie Leibovitz’s “Pilgrimage” intends to tell the tale of Annie’s personal journey over two years, photographing artifacts and locations related to some of America’s greatest individuals. I attended this gallery with my good friend Jordan Bush, who has offered his thoughts on the exhibition.

The exhibit is a significant departure from Leibovitz’s usual work, with photographs focusing on objects and places rather than portraits of the rich and famous. Yet, despite this, there is a familiarity to the material, as the objects are all related to the well-known and celebrated: Abraham Lincoln’s gloves and hat from the night he was assassinated, Sigmund Freud’s couch and books, Ansel Adam’s darkroom. These are exactly the type of items you might travel around the country to see, and yet, the images did not evoke the emotional connection to the people and the artifacts that I was hoping to experience.

Perhaps I just don’t get what Leibovitz was trying to convey. Perhaps her message doesn’t resonate with me. I felt that many of the images lacked the technical proficiency that I would expect from any exhibition of work honored by the American Art Museum, let alone a photographer of her caliber. Quite a few images suffered from poor lighting, lack of focus (both technically and conceptually), and lackluster perspective. Unfortunately, these deficiencies significantly distracted from the images and the experience. That is not to say that all the images suffered from these distracting qualities; in fact, there were some that were simply stunning — Niagara Falls, Georgia O’Keeffe’s pastels — but for the gallery as a whole, I was left wanting more.

As a photographer, one of my primary goals is to create images that connect emotionally with the viewer, and stand on their own based on a combination of technical merit, interesting subjects, and meaningful perspective. Liebovitz’s work usually gives me all that and more, leaving me in awe of her photographic vision, skill, experience, and execution, but apart from the similarity in people she emphasized in her images, this gallery did not remind me of her work. I found myself yearning for cohesiveness, a force guided by the intention of the photographer that would lead me from one image to the next, understanding the connections between the images, the photographer, and the viewer.

At the end of the day, I’m left wondering, if this wasn’t an Annie Leibovitz gallery, would it be hanging in the Smithsonian American Art Museum? Regrettably, I think the answer to the question is no.

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