Annie Leibovitz and Bharat Sikka: “Notations on the artist’s world”

by allthingsace

Image: Mary Smith

As social beings we depend largely upon language to provide each other with insight into what we are thinking. Telephathy aside it is a conscious effort to take the mind’s world and materialize it into something speakable, and in the visual artist’s case, into something viewable.

Recently, I saw Annie Leibovitz speak about her new book, “Pilgrimage,” and I also saw, for the first time, Bharat Sikka’s photography in his exhibit, Matter. Through the medium of photography, both artists provide a genuine expression of a world that exists within (an artist) as it is influenced by the world around them. Their images are the flashes of significance, they are the “notations on the artist’s world.

In a tiny space on College Ave. in Oakland, Calif., Annie Leibovitz, one my long-standing favorite photographers, read from and signed copies of her new book “Pilgrimage.” Diesel Books is not a huge space, and this was readily apparent when I arrived on Nov. 21 to a packed house; so packed I could not even make my way to the seat that I had reserved some three weeks earlier.

Image: Mary Smith

Standing only a few footsteps from the door, I had one of those moments of, “Is that really her?” It was in fact the woman I only know by the brilliant portraits she has taken that adorn the pages of Rolling Stone and Vogue, to name just a few. Seeing a photographer is like eating the forbidden fruit — dimystefying the mysterious eye that has the capacity to capture and share what it sees with the world. However, it was still deeply enchanting to watch her as she spoke about her new book, especially considering how personal “Pilgrimage” is.

The inside of the book jacket reads:

Pilgrimage took Annie Leibovitz to places that she could explore with no agenda. She wasn’t on assignment. She chose the subjects simply because they meant something to her.

It is remarkably inspiring to watch someone present a collection of work the way Leibovitz did. As she took questions from the audience you could feel how reflective an experience this project was for her — an experience, I think, that is hard to come by organically.

Image: Mary Smith

I relate Leibovitz’s project to a description I read while visiting the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts exhibition, “The Matter Within: New Contemporary Art of India.” One of the most striking works on display were those of Bharat Sikka, a photographer, whose works were mounted in such a way that they were crowding and overlapping each other. The series, Matter, is described:

Featuring pictures of figurative sculptures, moody landscapes, sleek portraits, and birds and butterflies, these works function as notations on the artist’s world.

“Notations on the artist’s world.” This phrase seems also, to characterize the 245 page book that makes up Leibovitz’s “Pilgrimage.” Both Lebovitz and Sikka have compiled snapshots of what means meaning in places and of objects that inspire (or haunt) them.

Leibovitz mentioned, as she spoke, that she is not a fan of fold out pages. However, in her book she was compelled to include one fold out page, that is, three 8.5 x 11 sheets when put together show a complete picture of the frame and caning of the bed that Thoreau slept on while living in a cabin at Walden Pond. It is the length of this image that allows the viewer to imagine a person sleeping on it, compared to the width of the bed frame, barely wide enough to fit one average-sized adult, that speaks to the utter lonliness that Thoreau must have felt at times living in the woods of New England.

The notations on the worlds of Leibovitz and Sikka are an interesting change of pace from highly conceptualized fine works of art. Not to say that these notations are any less artful, just that they are infused with a unique and personal sentiment, providing a window into someone else’s world — a rare experience.