Photography: Brand new luvvies
Wednesday 19 November 1997
National Portrait Gallery, until 8 February
Bruce Weber isn't alone in turning semi-naked supermodels or celebrities into an unforgettable image. As a member of the super-photographer elite, his shock-tactics rest alongside Annie Leibovitz (think naked Demi Moore) and Steven Meisel (Madonna's Sex). These photographers have re-evaluated the portrait as art for the twentieth century, using contemporary trappings of celebrity and glamour - but Weber is able to see through the eyes of car mechanic's accustomed to the sight of Page Three models as well as recreating erotic and shocking images for those who normally gaze on nudity when it is an amusing addition to the coffee table.
Branded Youth is a collection of photographs of Hollywood's hottest talent, such as Sean Penn, Juliette Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ewan McGregor. It is the first extensive exhibition of Bruce Weber's photographs in Britain in over thirteen years (with more than two hundred prints), and the first major museum retrospective to be devoted to his portraits, which celebrate stylised images of a stylised world.
The "other stories" are photographs such as those taken during the filming of Broken Noses, and others of ordinary folk like young women in the street in Soweto, a group of children in Vietnam or American boy scouts at a jamboree.
One portrait of actor Leonardo DiCaprio (right) plays with DiCaprio's boyish and gender ambiguous looks. The shot took place in Coney Island, with the pirouetting DiCaprio coming across as somewhere between Charlie Chaplin and his homeless kid. In many of Weber's celebrity portraits the actor is caught and branded by his own on-screen image.
This is a booming market for Weber and has ensured he can claim pounds 30,000 for an advertising shoot. Though he often represents the consumer culture to his sitters, Weber is not just a PR-exercise. "Once you photograph someone, you're attached to them for the rest of your life," he says. "I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to photograph these people when they were so young and open in their attitude. Later on in their careers you are rarely given enough time, and the star system generally prevents you from taking photographs that don't conform to the image that their agents want to present to the public."
'Branded Youth & Other Stories' is on display at the National Portrait Gallery, Wolfson Gallery, St Martin's Place, London WC2 (0171-306 0055). Admission pounds 4 (concessions pounds 3).
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