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Annie Leibowitz, Susan Sontag, and Emily Dickinson

By Harriet Staff

This NY Times feature on renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz sheds light on her new book of photographs, Pilgrimage, one that she had planned with her partner Susan Sontag before Sontag passed away. The two planned to make trips to specific places that held significant meaning for them and their relationship. Loss and grief soon sidelined the project, but they did make it to Niagra Falls and Emily Dickinson’s house.

“Pilgrimage” opens with shots of Emily Dickinson’s house that Ms. Leibovitz took, casually, while in Amherst, Mass., on a family visit. She visited the house next door, which belonged to Dickinson’s brother, Austin. “Austin’s house was a revelation. You could feel the people who had lived there. Austin’s young son had died in one of the small bedrooms, and I found that I couldn’t walk into it.”

She set those photographs aside. Before her partner, Susan Sontag, died, she and Ms. Leibovitz had planned to do a book of places they cared about. They made all kinds of lists of where they wanted to go. Years later, Ms. Leibovitz realized that she still wanted to do that book, with her own list.

Something about the Niagara trip with her girls stirred up memories of the Dickinson photographs and Ms. Leibovitz resurrected the idea of a pilgrimage. “There was a spiritual aspect to this journey at first,” she says. “It didn’t stay at that level — because I began to feel better. But somehow, it saved me to go into other worlds.”

She took her camera to Virginia Woolf’s house, photographing the surface of her writing table, and into her garden, capturing the wide, roiling water of the River Ouse, in which Woolf drowned herself. She photographed Dr. Freud’s sumptuously carpeted patient’s couch in London, and Darwin’s odd specimen collection. Eleanor Roosevelt’s bedroom, with its simple white coverlets, in her cozy cottage, Val-Kill, stands in contrast to a silver serving dish, its rich patina rippling with light. Abraham Lincoln’s elegant top hat and the white kid gloves, stiff with age, he had in his pocket when he was shot, make a startling appearance. Ms. Leibovitz visited Louisa May Alcott’s house, and photographed the view from Emerson’s bedroom window. The photo Ms. Leibovitz took of Emily Dickinson’s only surviving dress hovers near the book’s opening pages like a beneficent spirit, a beautifully detailed, embroidered white ghost.

Follow the link to read the rest. The slide show is great. Enjoy the detail of Dickinson’s dress.

Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, November 10th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.