24 December 2009

Book Review: Women

Title: Women
Author: Annie Leibovitz (photography) and Susan Sontag (essay)
Published: 2000 Pages: 250
Genre: Photography

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid

Plot Synopsis
Women is a collection of photographs depicting the diversity of women and designed to challenge the traditional views of female beauty and advance the more contemporary ideology of woman as equal.

My Thoughts
Women are beautiful. And I'm not using that term in the "oh isn't Britney Spears hot" kind of way. From the image of Polly Weydener, aged and wrinkled, to the image of lithe showgirls, the women featured in this collection uniquely exhibit the various characteristics of woman - and I think the characteristics of humans.  This substitution of humans for women is, I think, part of the point of this book.  Women are not a group separate from human; we are human, and we are as differentiated in looks, personalities, desires, ambitions, and abilities as men.

Often thought of as a subclass of humanity, women are often described in terms of their gender in a way men are not. Joe is a great race car driver; Betty is a great female race car driver. Or another example, the riddle:  A man and his son were in a car accident.  The man died on the way to the hospital, but the boy was rushed into surgery. The surgeon said "I can't operate on this boy. He's my son." How is this possible?

I remember hearing this sometime in high school, and it was astounding how many people could not immediately figure out the answer.  It seems so glaringly obvious.  But we assume surgeons are men, so the idea of the surgeon being the boy's mother does not spring to mind.  Answers I heard before Mother: the boy had two gay dads and the surgeon was the boy's stepfather.

As Susan Sontag writes in the beginning essay of Women, we are still "regarding individual man as an instance of humankind and an individual woman as an instance of...women".  Men represent humanity - in "language, narrative, group arrangements, and family customs".  Women are secondary, a subgroup within the larger category, not representative of the whole.

Descriptions of the images would just not be adequate, so if you are interested in seeing some of the pictures, go here.

I highly recommend purchasing this book for the images, the essay, the message.

Other Reviews
If I've missed yours, let me know!

A Striped Armchair

Question: What other photography books would you recommend?


Challenges: Women UnBoundGLBT ChallengeReading ResolutionsTake Another Chance,


  1. I love this book. I gave it to a whole bunch of people a couple of years ago as a Christmas gift.

  2. What great photos, and what a great message!

  3. Trisha - Thanks so much for this, I hadn't seen it before and now am hoping my library has it! Happy Xmas!

  4. I love black & white photography, particularly portraits and women- WOW. Thanks for reviewing this. Definitely going to look for it.

    Special thanks for the links to images.

  5. Elizabeth - What an awesome Christmas gift!

    She - You should definitely pick it up somewhere.

    Gavin - That is wonderful to hear. I hope your library has it on hand.

    Susan - Me too. Enjoy.

  6. The surgeon thing totally stumped me. Which is ridiculous and kind of makes me angry with myself. It's odd because we all *know* that there are female surgeons, they're the real thing - heck, I even watch fake ones on TV, and yet, we're somehow ingrained to think that a surgeon is/should be male. Scary how deep these prejudices (even against *ourselves*) run and yet we can be so barely aware of them until something like this comes along.

  7. I'd like to pick this up (or check it out of the library) for the Women Unbound reading challenge. It would be something a little different, and I imagine the images stay with you (you keep thinking about them after you've turned the page)

  8. Megan - Exactly! It just hurts when you realize that even as a woman, you are still prone to the same traditional ideology!

    Dawn - You definitely remember them. I've heard she's done some other work along the same lines that I'm interested in seeing as well.


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