Powerful portraits


I feel awash in powerful women this morning. Four things are converging upon me: I saw Elizabeth: The Golden Age yesterday, read Newsweek‘s “Women & Power” articles this morning, will meet with a few members of the The Young Clergy Women’s Project this afternoon, and I’ll be visiting the photos of Annie Leibovitz on Friday.

The movie was beautiful and grand. We spent a great deal of time circling around Cate Blanchett in her amazing costumes, taking in the imposing castles and soaring music. There was a lot that a less aesthetic editor would have left on the cutting room floor in order to keep the pace of the story up. And even after studying this period of history in depth many times, I scratched my head in the film’s (literally) swirling confusion.

But I love dresses and chorales and immense stone spaces, so I took it in with pleasure. And Queen Elizabeth, herself, is endlessly enthralling. Even with all the courses I’ve taken, I always want to know more about her. How did she keep peace between the Protestants and Catholics when there was so much turmoil on the continent? How did it feel to know that your father had your mother beheaded? What was her religious experience?

The movie centered around Queen Elizabeth’s virginity, her desire to love and be loved, and her ultimate calling to become the mother of England. Using her loss as her greatest strength, she defends a nation with that intense fury that a mother has when protecting her child.

The articles in Newsweek are verbal transcripts, and they read in that fashion (I wonder if it was painful for the accomplished writers to read their words in that form). There seems to be a lot on the editing floor in these that I wish I could pick up and piece back together again. The most fascinating portraits were by Shirley Franklin (Atlanta’s Mayor), Shonda Rhimes (Creator and executive producer of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘Private Practice’), and Elaine Pagels (Professor of Religion at Princeton University).

Elaine Pagels, in her brief page, quickly reminded me of the depth that religious leaders acquire in their eternal wrestling with life and belief. I felt somehow honored that she was there. A thinker, a Christian, one of our own, represented in the pages of power. She packed so much into the few words, as she spoke of her upbringing, attending church with parents who had a condescending view of religion. She articulated her spiritual awakenings in the evangelical movement and her quick disenchantment. She talked of the urgency of her faith during the death of her six-year-old son. She told what it was like when her husband died, and she was left as a widow with two adopted children. And she explained how community and spiritual meaning nurtured her in all of this.

Her photo is unlike any of the other women. While the other women captured the camera, and stood in the center of the compositions, Pagel’s photo is in the dark Princeton chapel. She seems to be an incidental visitor in space, a tourist who just happened to turn with a casual smile when the camera clicked.

So, here’s my question for the day–it’s a question that my friend Matt Buell asked me when we saw the stark, powerful “Women” exhibition by Leibovitz. It’s a question that I’ve thought about for years, but I still have not been able to answer. If Leibovitz photographed a portrait of you, what would it look like?

the photo’s entitled “powerful women” and it’s by she saw things

3 thoughts on “Powerful portraits

  1. Heard an interesting interview with Kapoor, the director of Elizabeth, about his interest in the mythical quality of her story – he actually used the words about the shifting of a human to divine status. I think it was part of Saturday Edition or All Things Considered. Also, Mom saw the Leibovitz exhibit in Atlanta, on a tour with the curator, and loved it. She thinks AL is total genius. I’ve no idea what her photo of me would look like, though.

  2. Yeah. I think my only answer that I could conjure up for Matt was: “Well, I know I wouldn’t want to be naked….”

    Laura, am I going to see you this month on my visit to the big city? I hope so!!

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