Thursday, 18 July 2013


It shocked and outraged a nation, but Annie Liebovitz's 1991 naked portrait of Demi Moore undoubtedly broke taboos and made its mark on the world of portraiture. In this month's Iconic Photograph feature Stephen McKenna considers what all the fuss was about.


This month's iconic picture first appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991 to an astonishing wave of shock.  Here was a female film star appearing on the front of one of America's leading magazines, not only in a virtually naked state, but also heavily pregnant.
The subject was rising Hollywood star Demi Moore and the photographer Annie Liebovitz with the original idea being to illustrate that pregnancy didn't have to eclipse a mother-to-be's sex appeal.  
Moore had already been shot in stockings with high-heels and an evening coat, but toward's the end of the shoot Liebovitz suggested the idea of some nude studies.
The movie star responded casually to the idea, as Liebowitz was to recall.  'She dropped her clothing and I started to shoot. I said, "well this looks really, I mean... maybe we should make this the cover. Why not?" And she said yes, maybe.  So we tried to hide everything the best we could [Moore wears nothing more than diamond earrings and a ring]. Tina Brown in New York made a decision to go ahead with it. And this is one of those things, it had a life of its own.'
Tina Brown was Vanity Fair's editor and she seemed well aware of the reaction the cover would provoke, not to mention the adverse reaction it could have on the magazine's sales.  So, in may parts of the title's distribution network it appeared partly concealed or in a brown wrapper, as in the manner of a soft-porn publication.
Following the edition's appearance in August of that year the cover became the main topic for conversation on virtually all tv and radio shows, phone-ins, newspaper editorials and comment pieces.
Considered offensive there, revolutionary here and, indisputably, a talking point just about everywhere, it is estimated that the cover was seen by 100 million people and in the twenty-plus years since its appearance the portrait has come to be regarded by some as 'high art'.  In a court case it was even compared to Botticelli's Birth of Venus.
By the photographer's own assessment, however, she doesn't recall it as one of her best pictures.  Speaking in a 2012 interview, Liebowitz noted, 'It's a magazine cover.  If it were a great portrait, she wouldn't be covering her breats.  She wouldn't necessarily be looking at the camera.'
naked gun three ver1Certainly it will always be THAT picture and while it's claimed the cover was 'anti-glitz, anti Hollywood', it has, nonetheless, become so imitated and parodied that for all its status as an iconic image, it will always struggle to outrun the shadow of its own infamy.  After all, people are as likely to recall the parody film poster for Naked Gun 33 1/3 with Leslie Nielsen morphed on to the original.  

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