Helping Children See the Big Picture
Friday, January 11, 2008; Page WE43
Imagine your portrait hanging on a museum wall next to photographs by American masters.
For a few more days, it can.
As part of the Corcoran Gallery's exhibits showcasing the photography of Annie Leibovitz and Ansel Adams, families can have their photos taken and displayed as a temporary digital image or be a model in a photo shoot.
The interactive parts of the exhibits aim to teach children about photography, to get them thinking about the artists they see and to just have a little fun.
"Everyone has a good time," says Sarah Durkee, the museum's director of public education. "We see a lot of tongues and nostrils."
Children ages 4 to 12 also can star in their own photo shoot this weekend in "That's a Wrap!," an event inspired by Leibovitz's fashion photography. "By being models, they'll be thinking about poses, composition, what creates an interesting image -- all things that a photographer thinks about, too," Durkee says.
"Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005," which closes Sunday, mixes celebrity portraits from the likes of Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines with the photographer's homier images of her family. "Ansel Adams," which runs through Jan. 27, features 125 images by the landscape photographer.
"Kids can look at their work and see that inspiration is all around us," Durkee says. "Family, mountains, landscapes -- these are all things to appreciate and take time to really see," perhaps through a camera lens.
On a recent afternoon, even the wait for the digital portrait session was entertaining as children and adults practiced poses and watched others ham it up for the camera.
That sense of fun is reflected in Leibovitz's photographs of Hollywood stars, which include Jim Carrey miming a scream, Brad Pitt sleek in leopard-print pants, Scarlett Johansson bedecked in bling and Leonardo DiCaprio wearing a compliant swan like a necklace.
Kids may be able to relate most to Leibovitz's family photographs, which capture such universal events as vacations, picnics and holidays. After seeing Leibovitz's images of her mother dancing on the beach and her young daughter playing with writer Susan Sontag, children may be able to recognize their own family shapshots as art.
The eight large landscapes that conclude the Leibovitz exhibit segue nicely into the exhibit on Adams, who died in 1984. Selected from six decades of his professional life, the images include a soft-focus shot, taken at age 17, of a juniper tree in Yosemite National Park and a dramatic self-portrait set in Utah's Monument Valley in 1958.
Adams's photos convey a sense of dynamic natural energy whether they catch the moon rising over Yosemite's monolithic Half Dome or the thrust skyward of aspens in Colorado or a saguaro cactus in Arizona.
Children can learn much about taking their own pictures (including composition, cropping and lighting) from both exhibits. And they can see how photographic equipment has evolved by exploring the old-fashioned camera obscura in the gallery. Who would have guessed that this room-size, centuries-old drawing tool would be an ancestor of the palm-fitting digital cameras that snap today's little nostrils and tongues?
Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005 and Ansel Adams "Annie Leibovitz" through Sunday, "Ansel Adams" through Jan. 27 at Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW (Metro: Farragut North or Farragut West) Contact:202-639-1700. http:/