Being in Pictures: An Intimate Photo Memoir interweaves the remarkable photography and collage work of artist Joanne Leonard with a warm, compelling account of an artist's life and creative processes.
Leonard's evocative and often dreamlike creations have over four decades revealed "the tensions between realism and idealization" that exist in both photography and photocollage. Beginning with her earliest work—which recorded with equal energy and devotion the 1972 Winter Olympics, her neighborhood in inner-city Oakland, a kitchen countertop, and her own family—she worked to develop a photographic genre she called "intimate documentary."
As Leonard's art evolved, she began to challenge the boundary between personal and public images, and her work turned to autobiographical and daringly intimate themes, including the end of her marriage, a devastating miscarriage, and single motherhood. Her portraits of daughter Julia from birth onward constitute one of our most extensive and expressive portrayals by any photographer of a child's journey to adulthood.
Being in Pictures also explores notions of identity and loss, as Leonard probes in word and image the meanings of being a twin, her conflicted feelings toward an emotionally distant father who escaped the Nazis, and her response to her highly accomplished mother's slow decline from Alzheimer's disease.
Leonard's work is by turns irreverent, bold, provocative, tender, wistful, poetic—and sometimes heartbreaking. The book's nearly two hundred reproductions include a wide selection of black and white photographs as well as her vivid, richly nuanced collages.
From the Foreword:
"Leonard's art is an undisputed success. Within the framework she calls 'intimate documentary,' she has proved that is possible to move from 'the smallest picture in the show' to a twenty-two-foot collage, missing very few beats in between. Along with technical challenges and discoveries, she tells a family story (made up of family stories) by braiding the lives of four generations of women—her grandmother; her mother; herself and her two sisters (one of them her twin); and her beloved daughter, whom she bore and raised as a deliberately single mother. . . . As we watch Leonard's oeuvre unfold sequentially, we can trace the images—mothers and babies, mothers and daughters, sleepers and dreamers, children and memories, the teapot and one or two teacups, loneliness and companionship. The power of these images lies not merely in personal honesty and expressive talent but in the artist's clear-eyed acknowledgment of multiple truths."
—Lucy R. Lippard
"Joanne Leonard will play an important role in the history of twentieth-century culture, art, and photo history for her daring and innovative subject matter . . . her complex and multi-layered works address women's life narratives, twinship, dementia, miscarriage, parenting, and the stages and conditions of female subjectivity."
—Griselda Pollock, University of Leeds
"More than the gripping autobiography of a feminist, a mother, an artist, and a witness to the tumultuous events of the last half-century, and more than a record of Joanne Leonard's innovative and brilliant career as a photographer, Being in Pictures opens for us, in the words of Leonard's most famous work, 'windows of vulnerability.' This moving book, with its remarkably beautiful and disturbing photographs, draws us into the most intimate and revealing moments of the creative process."
—Marianne Hirsch, Columbia University
"Joanne Leonard's work and writing have the stamp of personal integrity that distinguishes her contribution to women's art and literature. She combines fragments of different images, most based on direct life experiences, to create new—often startling—meanings, and what always shines through is the honesty—the authenticity of voice, bringing Leonard to the forefront of artists—not just female artists—in this country."
—Anthony F. Janson, History of Art
Co-Winner: 2009 University of Michigan Press Book Award
Julia and Window of Vulnerability
Copyright © 2007, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.
Listen: Interview on American Public Media's The Story.
Read: Review Photography News
Read: Review NPR The Picture Show
Read: Q&A with Joanne Leonard (PDF)
View: Joanne Leonard and Helen Nestor Collections | Oakland Museum of California