How celebrity photography now offers a great commentary on contemporary life

Melania Trump, who was heavily pregnant at the time, chose to pose in a metallic gold string bikini and matching body paint. This unconventional choice of attire was further accentuated by the fact that she did not adopt the traditional maternity pose of resting her palm on her baby bump, but instead opted for a hand-on-hip pose reminiscent of Victoria’s Secret models. The accompanying image captures the essence of this moment, with Donald Trump standing beside her, seemingly indifferent to his wife’s state of undress and pregnancy, as he prepares to drive off in a sleek Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. This scene offers a glimpse into the world of the rich and famous, where even pregnancy is not immune to the pressures of maintaining a certain image or aesthetic.

Instead, it reveals more about the most talked-about man in the world and his spouse than a thousand words ever could. With their backs turned in separate directions and no sign of recognition for one another, the pair appears alienated. The scenario has been carefully designed to exude masculinity, riches, and power. There is a glaring absence of feeling and humanity. Is Melania a goddess made of gold or just another prize for Donald to hoard?

The portrait seems prophetic in many ways. In her most recent book, Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005-2016, another Leibovitz photograph is comparable. In it, a 15-year-old Miley Cyrus is shown holding a white bedsheet to her chest while topless. When the photograph, which was taken for Vanity Fair, was first released in 2008, Cyrus was still viewed as a wholesome child star who portrayed Hannah Montana on Disney’s beloved Hannah Montana. In addition to speaking to Cyrus’s personal identity and development, the painting makes us think about how we generally see and deal with young people in general. It investigates societal apprehensions about adolescence brings up the subject of entertainment business exploitation.

But despite how revealing and self-reflective celebrity photographs might be of a changing culture, art students and critics don’t usually gush over them or examine them. Glossy magazines and coffee table books instead of major art shows and museums are where they naturally belong. However, Leibovitz is a master at drawing strength and significance from the superficial, and has received much acclaim for it. They are a product of pop culture, or, as some would mockingly say, “low culture.” Whoopi Goldberg, Demi Moore, Caitlyn Jenner, Serena Williams, and John Lennon are just a few of the famous people she has photographed throughout the years. Her credibility casts doubt on the idea that an image of a well-known face, whether it be an actor or an athlete, is merely superficial.