From highly recognizable fashion icons to tiara-wearing toddlers, the Annenberg Space for Photography’s BEAUTY CULTURE exhibit takes a close look at "modern female beauty and how these images profoundly influence our lives in both celebratory and disturbing ways."
BEAUTY CULTURE, which runs through November 27, 2011, delves into the cosmetics and fashion industries, plotting a course through the good, the bad, and sometimes gruesome aspects associated with the complex question, “What is beauty?” The exhibition includes the focused photography of masters like Albert Watson, Melvin Sokolsky, and others.
In addition, the ongoing “IRIS Nights” lecture series tied to the event incorporates notables from different genres, including Matthew Rolston, Leonard Nimoy, and others.
I recently toured the photos that lined the walls of the Annenberg Space. Broken up into themed sections, the images range from the striking Vogue cover shots and behind-the-scenes photojournalism (as seen in Photo 1) to confessional images of torturous beauty rituals and cosmetic surgery (as seen in Photo 2).
The thematic arrangement asks question upon question within the broader heading of how female beauty is defined. Simple as it sounds from an individual perspective, that question suddenly seemed unanswerable once I watched Lauren Greenfield’s short documentary film commissioned for the exhibit by the Annenberg Digital Gallery.
Greenfield, who gained critical acclaim with the HBO documentary, “THIN,” created a special piece for the space, featuring candid insights from famed photographers, models, industry insiders, celebrities, fringe personalities, and the everyday women who struggle with the associated societal norms and expectations.
Heavy material, to be certain, BEAUTY CULTURE addresses such issues as age, size, and race, and explores provocative subjects like child pageantry, beauty revolution, and glamour sub-sects. Even beyond the subject matter, though, there is an intense depth, importance, and quality to the photography.
With so many floating questions, I spoke to Patricia Lanza, the Talent and Content Director for the Annenberg Space for Photography, to find out how other people have responded to the exhibit.
thalo: With such controversial subject matter, how have professional photographers reacted?
Patricia Lanza: We have heard from other photographers that this is a very impactful exhibition … Paul Lange, one of the photographers in this exhibition, said he left fashion and beauty photography because he saw that there was an overuse of Photoshop that made the business no longer agreeable to him. He now does fine art photography.
th: What have industry insiders said, considering that the topic that hits pretty close to home?
PL: Well, surprisingly, we haven’t gotten any negative response from editorial in the fashion industry. In a meeting with one editor, [she] acknowledged that [her publication was] “part of the problem,” but nothing came out in print.
th: What is the general feeling from the public?
PL: This show definitely discusses that the ideals of beauty that are set by media are mostly unattainable. Visitors have commented on the ideals of body image and thanked us for bringing these to light in a frank and open way.
The Annenberg Space for Photography
At Century Park in Century City
2000 Avenue of the Stars
Los Angeles, CA 90067
Wed, Thu, Fri, and Sun - 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Sat - 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
(Closed Mon and Tue)
Gallery admission is free.
Validated self-parking is $3.50 for three hours.
Photo 1, “Backstage at the Paul Smith Women fashion show, London, UK September 13th, 2002,” copyrighted by Felicia Webb, is courtesy of the Annenberg Space for Photography.
Photo 2, “Injection,” copyrighted by Lauren Greenfield / INSTITUTE, is courtesy of the Annenberg Space for Photography