Photographer Annie Leibovitz was in Gettysburg yesterday for the opening of her exhibit at the GNMP Visitors Center. She even got to spend the previous night at the Sherfy House on the battlefield. Her latest show is called Pilgrimage, and is based on a book of the same name. The last several years have been difficult for Leibovitz, with the death of partner Susan Sontag and financial reversals that cost her a great deal of money and aggravation. In something of a rut, she assessed what if most important to her and how she wants to move ahead by looking back; from that came this exhibit. For Leibovitz taking stock meant visiting places of historical and natural significance here in the United States and abroad that meant something to her personally. One of the drawbacks to being a commercial photographer, even a gifted one, is that too often the emphasis is on the adjective at the expense of the noun. Subjects in Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage include Graceland and Monticello, Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill, Old Faithful, Thoreau’s Walden Pond, and Niagara Falls to name a few. Walking the Peach Orchard and Devil’s Den must have been something for someone as knowledgable about the history of photography as Leibovitz. Certainly she knows her Gardner and Brady. Ansel Adams’s studio had been another stop on her pilgrimage.
It is good to see her getting back to work like this. Her talents had stagnated over the past decade. The celebrity photo shoots had become exponentially less relevant while the spreads themselves had grown increasingly outlandish and gratuitous. Seemingly gone were the simple images such as those of John Lennon and Yoko One taken in December 1980 with which she had made her reputation. Pilgrimage is a return to simplicity for the photographer, who turned sixty-three earlier this month. The exhibit will be on display in Gettysburg through January 20, 2013 before moving to other cities.