NPR logo Joanne Leonard's 'Being In Pictures'

Joanne Leonard's 'Being In Pictures'

Although Joanne Leonard knew nothing of sports, she was one of two official photographers for the U.S. team in the 1972 Winter Olympics. But it's not professional photographs that typify her portfolio or summarize her career. It's images of friends and family.

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Her book, Being in Pictures: An Intimate Photo Memoir, is the product of nearly five decades behind the lens — a lens that has seen private moments as well as public scenes of protest, conflict and community events. Leonard's effort has been to bridge this gap between private and public imagery, developing a genre she called "intimate documentary." Her book interweaves photography, collage work and personal narrative to tell both her own story and the story of art in general.

Portrait of Joanne Leonard, 1972, by Joan Murray hide caption

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by Joan Murray

As a young woman in the 1960s, Leonard faced a male-dominated vocation that lacked this type of introspective storytelling. By turning the camera on her own life, she managed to digest the tide of world events, and give them personal weight. She could contrast her own idealized family images with photos from the Vietnam War, for example, to raise questions about fiction and reality.

A very recently retired professor at the University of Michigan, Leonard writes, "[M]y camera has always sought the beauty and light in a moment." And thumbing through 250 pages of photos and photo collages, one notes precisely that. Her father, a refugee from Nazi Germany, sleeps with a smile; a very pregnant sister-in-law hangs laundry to dry; a bride throws her bouquet from a balcony. It's a quiet, dreamy commentary on what it has meant to be a twin, a single mother and a female artist over the past 50 years.

Leonard's collages can be found in art history textbooks, and her photographs are now in various museums. And she's still wielding a camera. To learn more, listen to Dick Gordon's interview with Leonard on American Public Media's "The Story."

By Claire O'Neill

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