Susan Anderson's Illusion of Womanhood

Susan Anderson, an internationally known photographer and expert on the High Glitz culture of child pageantry, recently gave us her take on the industry at our Iris Nights Lecture.

Although she abstained from giving any formal opinion on the controversial subject of beauty contests, she did claim that this is not a new issue we are dealing with. Anderson put on the screen a classical painting of Aphrodite and the golden apple and posed the question, "could this have been the first beauty pageant?"

Her question was meant to explain that society has always idealized women and we have always been fascinated with the fairy tale ending.  The fake eyelashes, the artificial tans, the thousand dollar hair dos, and the sparkly dresses all play into a preexisting culture that we are all partially responsible for creating.

Anderson admits that the most popular responses to her work are either to moralize or to laugh.  But she offers a different response: to just present.  She suggests that the little girls collaborate with her, that they have fun with it and it is their way to act, play a role and take a reality and make it their own.

She offers and interesting perspective because from where she stands it is simply art, it is fascinating and it is visually stunning.

To see more of Susan Anderson's work click here

Beauty Pageant Culture

You'll find an array of photos of beauty pageant contestants in BEAUTY CULTURE. From Miss Senior California, the one and only Pink Lady (you might recognize her Botox-injected lips from our exhibit banners throughout L.A.) to Susan Anderson's toothy-smiled, Beauty, age 4, which greets visitors in the Space's entrance hallway - we see these women prepping for the show and competing as well.

But what happens after the contest?

In celebration of the Miss USA pageant's 60th anniversary, Time Magazine recently asked Anderson (who lectured at the Space and signed copies of her book, High Glitz, on June 16) to shoot portraits of 31 of its past winners.  These queens still have some set ideas about pageant culture.

Miriam (Stevenson) Breckenridge (Miss USA, 1954) now 78, told Time: "...you don't want to be thought of just as the beauty queen. People only remember me for being Miss USA and Miss Universe even all these years later."

Meanwhile, 75-year-old Myrna Hanson (Miss USA, 1953) weighed in on artificial beauty: "At that time, you didn't dare put any pads in your bathing suit, but now I look around and see silicone everywhere. I don't think young people need silicone any place, any time anywhere. It's what you do with what you've got that counts."

To see all of Andersen's portraits in the Time piece, click here.

If you haven't yet seen BEAUTY CULTURE, come see it now before it goes away in November!

Father's Day at The Space Was a Big Success

Thanks to everyone who made Father's Day at the Space a huge success. We had almost 900 visitors come to celebrate the holiday and check out our immensely popular BEAUTY CULTURE exhibit. Staff members took complimentary photographs of guests who visited that day and free refreshments were served as well.

We hope everyone had a spectacular Father's day!

Leonard Nimoy Beams Into IRIS Nights

The one and only Leonard Nimoy stepped up on stage at IRIS Nights last night. He wasn't here to talk about his acting career but to discuss his life as a highly respected photographer.

Introducing Nimoy at the lecture was New York Times Lens Blog writer James Estrin. The two are seen here chatting in the green room beforehand. Looks like they've become fast friends! Nimoy started the lecture by recounting a story about a time he was walking in Los Angeles with Tom Hanks. The two encountered a man who wanted to have his photo taken with Hanks. When Hanks asked who would take the picture, the man turned to Nimoy and said "Oh, Mr. Nimoy, you're a wonderful photographer. Can you take the picture?" Nimoy, who maintained such an enviable sense of humor throughout the lecture, joked that it was that story that gave him "street credibility" as a photographer. We think he had street cred long before then! Nimoy spoke at length about his photography, including one of his most well-known works, "The Full Body Project." He explains how he became involved with the women in the above photo, all members of the Fat Bottom Revue burlesque  group. Nimoy revealed that he does not do photojournalism. He prefers shooting projects in a controlled environment. Nimoy's "Secret Selves" was the first time he ever used color in his photography. "Secret Selves" focused on people bringing out their secret, hidden or fantasy selves to Nimoy and his camera. Nimoy is a very prolific photographer.  Apparently there are thousands of photos that he's taken which have yet to see the light of day. Personally, we can't wait to see more! Nimoy stuck around after his talk to sign copies of his books The Full Body Project for fans. Were you one of the lucky few to get him to sign a copy of the book? Nimoy's wife was in attendance last night. Here she is, on the left, posing with him in front of one of the first images visitors come across in the BEAUTY CULTURE exhibit, his most well-known photo from "The Full Body Project." After expressing his gratitude to the packed room for attending his lecture, he signed off with this very familiar quote: "live long and prosper!" Thanks for such a thoughtful, entertaining and enlightening lecture last night, Leonard! You can watch the lecture on our site by clicking here. (All lecture images by Unique for the Space)

Lauren Greenfield Comes Full Circle With BEAUTY CULTURE

While BEAUTY CULTURE continues to break attendance records here at the Annenberg Space for Photography, we thought now would be a good time as any to publish a post on one of featured photographers, Lauren Greenfield and the documentary film, also titled BEAUTY CULTURE, that accompanies the show. The 30-minute film was directed by the award-winning photographer herself.

Produced by her husband and producing partner, Frank Evers, Greenfield filmed the documentary over the course of several months in Los Angeles, New York and Paris. Her intent was to create a film that focused on the sociological and psychological perceptions of beauty from a cross-cultural viewpoint.

Regarding her work on BEAUTY CULTURE Greenfield says, "A lot of the things I photograph are interconnected: from the young girls and the kind of precocious sexualization of young girls, to the vanity of teenagers and the kind of struggle to establish your identity as a teenager, to women and older women facing the challenge of getting older in a youth-obsessed culture. So this project, BEAUTY CULTURE, allowed me to kind of bring the work full circle and look at all aspects."

The film has been met with resounding praise from many guests here at the photography space citing Los Angeles--with its Hollywood machine and incessant promotion of the billion-dollar cosmetics industry--as an ideal location for a film addressing warped ideals of beauty.

BEAUTY CULTURE is certainly not Greenfield's first foray into filmmaking. Her documentary Thin premiered on HBO in 2006, also screening at the Sundance Film Festival. A film dealing with eating disorders of young women, Thin went on to earn Greenfield an Emmy nomination for Best Director of Non-Fiction Programming. Her follow-up doc kids + money, also broadcast on HBO, won the Audience Award for Best Short Film at the AFI Film Festival among other honors.

The film, which features interviews with Jamie Lee Curtis, Tyen, Crystal Renn and many others, screens throughout the day at the Space. Make sure you come see it before the exhibit closes next month.

As for Greenfield, she will return to the Space as our IRIS Nights lecturer on Thursday, October 13, in what is sure to be a standing-room only event!

Story Time with Mark Laita

It was my first week on the job interning for the Annenberg Foundation and already I was sent to cover one of our IRIS Nights lectures, a favorite among dedicated fans.

That night Mark Laita spoke about his new photobook, Created Equal, a collection of black and white photo diptychs contrasting the portraits of everyday Americans by putting, for example, a picture of Baptist minister next to members of the Ku Klux Klan or nuns next to prostitutes. The inspiration for the project is incredible: Laita left behind his polished life in the advertising world to find the real America he grew up with, the one he wanted to make sure the world would never forget.

But what stuck out to me was not necessarily his professional or captivating photos (which are absolutely incredible) but the way he engaged us in the process.  I found myself leaning forward, completely engrossed in every word, waiting on the edge of my seat for the next description of the photo pair.

His tales of having breakfast with the Hell's Angels, coercing an Amish man into being photographed or becoming best buds with some weed farmers had me and the rest of the audience rolling in laughter. It felt like you were getting to know his subjects personally and the portraits became more than pictures, they were real life people who were living in the same country as myself.   But that was the point.  He wanted to elevate the raw and rugged America to a place of glamor and importance.

"I was trying to find hidden gems that are normally overlooked," said Laita during his presentation, "It's not about finding these grand/great people, it's about finding the ordinary people and making them look great."

Later someone from the audience asked him what statement he was trying to make with comparing nuns to prostitutes.  Laita just smiled and said he meant to pass no judgment; he simply wanted to ask the question, "How then can two girls grow up in the same county and have two completely different fates?"

And from where I was sitting it was mission accomplished for every picture I saw I asked myself the same question. There are two men who look strikingly similar and I asked myself so how is it that one became a CEO and the other a janitor?   

Learn more about Mark on his official website.

(All lecture images by Unique for the Space)

Coming Soon At IRIS Nights: Amber Valletta

Here at the Annenberg Space for Photography, we've had the great fortune of many incredible photographers lecturing at our IRIS Nights for our BEAUTY CULTURE exhibit. One of our guest lecturers on Thursday, November 3rd will provide her own unique insight from her career in front of the camera. Model, actor and long-time humanitarian Amber Valletta (seen above during a visit to the Space) started modeling as a teenager quickly establishing a high-profile career by landing her first Vogue cover on the eve of her 19th birthday. Her success as a model would soon transition to television and film with Valletta taking over co-hosting duties from Cindy Crawford on MTV's House of Style followed by acting roles in Hitch and the current ABC show Revenge. Her increasing fame also provided an opportunity to work with multiple charitable organizations that focused on Valletta's childhood interest in social relations.

One of her most recent fashion spreads for the September issue of W Magazine has also been one of her most controversial. In an industry where youth and beauty are usually a prerequisite for success, Valletta inhabits a role in "One for the Ages" spanning 12 decades of life with a final lasting image of a decrepit, yet intimidating elderly woman of the future. Because aging is often the death knell for many models, the actual intent of the photo shoot is a rarity. In the issue, Valletta said of the layout.

"You see women who are getting older, and they're still thought of as powerful and sexy and sensual. Ten years ago that wasn't talked about nearly as much...My best advice for aging gracefully is probably going to be more of a spiritual or a psychological answer, which is just trying to find peace in life and being happy and sharing that with other people. Ultimately the insides never change. The outsides will always. And it's transcending that that I think makes a beautiful life."

We couldn't agree more, Amber! If you don't have a chance to see Valletta along with photographer Amanda de Cadenet at our IRIS Night on November 3rd, we hope you'll still find an opportunity to check out BEAUTY CULTURE here at the Annenberg Space for Photography until November 27th. You can check out her spread in W, shot by Steven Klein, here.

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Make Me Beautiful


Matthew Rolston, an icon in fashion photography, came to entertain us at the IRIS Nights lecture yesterday. He also brought his long time friend, journalist Merle Ginsberg. Her questions and insight into Matthew's work helped reveal exciting information about his unique body of work.

Rolston confessed that he didn't see himself as simply a photographer or director but rather an 'idea' person, wanting to extend his talents into all areas of the creative world.

Rolston also explained his process of creation as collaborative and told stories of working with Anna Nicole Smith or Christina Aguilera. Aguilera actually came to him a year in advance in order to plan a photo idea for her upcoming album release.


Rolston then provided insight to his role in the industry and his vision for expanding the cannon of beauty. "For me photography is worship." said Rolston, "Human desire is about genetics - survival. The things we consider to be beautiful...go to the core of survival."

In a surprise turn of events the two guest speakers invited the entire audience to join them in a drink, outside on the plaza at our first IRIS Nights complimentary cocktail party.

Needless to say it was a glamorous night out with the Annenberg Foundation and two hundred of Rolston's closest brand new friends

Thank you Mr. Rolston for a lovely evening.

Lauren Greenfield Returns To IRIS Nights

If you're one of the nearly 50,000 patrons who has visited Beauty Culture since its May opening, we're betting there's a good chance you've departed the Space electrified by filmmaker and featured photographer Lauren Greenfield's documentary of the same name. We were thrilled to learn more about Greenfield's career during her recent IRIS Nights lecture at the Photography Space, as well as the inspirations behind her photographic and filmed accomplishments.

Greenfield was all smiles as she and her husband (and documentary producer) Frank Evers, arrived at the Space. This was Greenfield's second IRIS Nights lecture. She was also part of the L8S ANG3LES lineup!

Just before showtime, IRIS Nights attendees wrapped themselves all the way through the exhibit hall anticipating the opening of our gallery seating for Greenfield's lecture.

One of Greenfield's first images in her retrospective was of Las Vegas showgirl Anne-Margaret. A note taped to the entertainer's mirror reads "I approve of myself." This is one of many Greenfield images involving women that address issues dealing with self-esteem and self-acceptance.

Greenfield also spoke about an image taken at a beauty pageant for southern belles. The photo captures the contestants in traditional gowns and poses, but juxtaposing these traditions--the girls also flash garter belts on all of their legs.

Greenfield talked the above image in which a young model walked down the street, while being ogled by three passing men - one of them a hard-hat wearing construction worker. While the audience laughed at Greenfield's retelling of the story behind the picture, she joked that we may be responding with the laughter, but the men's wives probably had a far less humorous response!

Greenfield's work obviously inspires much discussion with audience members and she was happy to address a number of questions from lecture attendees regarding the psychological and sociological issues behind her images.

Guest perused copies of Greenfield's best-selling and award-winning books including Girl Culture, Fast Forward and Thin before meeting her for a book-signing in our photography library.

Visitors had an incredible opportunity to chat one-on-one with Greenfield during the book signing.

Meanwhile, Evers engages guests in conversation while waiting in the book-signing queue.

Greenfield happily greeted fans as several photographers maneuver through the crowd to capture the best angle. Despite the often intense and emotional images that she captures, Greenfield and her fans had a delightful evening and we certainly did too! Thank you so much, Lauren!

You can watch the lecture on our site by clicking here.

(All lecture images by Unique for the Space)

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