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Reviewed by:
  • Being in Pictures: An Intimate Photo Memoir
  • Ruth Zoë Ost (bio)
Joanne Leonard ; Being in Pictures: An Intimate Photo Memoir (University of Michigan Press, 2008)

When young photographers ask me what they should do first, I always tell them to stay close to home.

—Annie Leibovitz, A Photographer's Life

Decades ago, back in my Ann Arbor days, a former student, long since a friend, asked if I would mind if she took my photos, squirreled away in shoeboxes, and put them in albums. My life in disorder upset her. Looking through those beautifully arranged albums, I loved her for the story she told, yet grieved for the one she missed. Pictures conflicting with her version of who I was ended up hidden behind more acceptable truths. I didn't rearrange them, though I prowled around, looking for what was missing and found them stashed away but saved. These albums frame my relationship with Joanne Leonard's Being in Pictures, An Intimate Photo Memoir.1

In Joanne Leonard's twin tellings through text and pictures (a twin herself, twinning is a theme in her work, a way she thinks about identity), she has, in effect, curated her own life: a one-woman retrospective, text on the white walls of high-gloss paper, her own captions. We can hold this volume, lay it across our laps, keep company with her: she invites a subversive relationship with the reader/viewer, out from under the patriarchal gaze.

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I open her book, familiar with Leonard's [End Page 161] important work as an artist and a feminist, her intimate documentaries canonized with the inclusion of Romanticism Is Ultimately Fatal in Janson's History of Art: The Western Tradition. I can't put it down. How is she thinking about intimacy or fatality in this new format? Is the intimate dangerous? What does the gaze make of the work of the most ordinary, personal, and complicated of relationships: sisters (twin sisters in Leonard's case, doubling the complexities), mother and daughter, father and daughter, husband (later ex-husband) and lover(s), and close friends? Who counts?

The counting begins with the dedication: "To Julia Marjorie Leonard, my beloved and dazzling daughter"—and concludes:

Where does a mother's story end and a daughter's begin? That might be, after all, the central question of this book, the point of the autobiographical approach I've taken in putting this book together—to discover the lives in my own images, to remember the stories of my mother, to give the stories to my daughter, and to anyone else for whom these ideals and themes resonate.

p. 240

This issue of Bridges is about Jewish feminists' relationships with their fathers. Why include a review of this book, then, when Leonard is trying to collage/memoir her way into making sense of the relationships between mothers and daughters—indeed, the matriarchy across the generations? I prowl around the pictures and text, invited in by the very premise of collage—scraps of handwritten text, photos, snapshots, cut-outs, blood-stained paper patched and pasted together, layers through which to draw and make meaning.2 What stories does she need to find in her images? What stories does her daughter need—feminist, Jewish, or otherwise? Engaging in her images and text from the perspective of the father hints at a missing story, exposes the haunting negative: men.

For a photographer whose work predates digital images, "negative" can have multiple meanings: film needing to be held to the light to see what's there, maybe to be printed, maybe not; and the opposite of positive, something negative, against the good, against desire. Leonard's relationship with men, especially her father, her (ex-) husband, the lover who is the father of her child: I hold them to the light to see what I've missed. I want to explore these negative images as a way to explore the generational shift from Joanne Leonard's feminism to the desires of her own daughter.

Leonard's narrative gains traction as it distances itself from patriarchal relations. Romanticism Is Ultimately Fatal, the cover photo for this book...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 161-169
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2012
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