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Staring at women from all walks of life

Our photography staff takes a shot at the best books of the year.

Women Photos by Annie Leibovitz Intro by Susan Sontag Random House

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Annie Liebovitz, one of the great portrait photographers of our time, turns her lens on American women, famous and obscure, in her latest book, "Women." Liebovitz is well known for her creative portraits of celebrities resulting from her ability to win their trust - Whoopie Goldberg lying in a bath of milk, Bette Middler in a bed of roses. However, this collection of portraits is straightforward, no gimmicks. Each portrait stands alone, but together these performers, politicians, movie stars, artists, first ladies, socialites, athletes, and professionals add up to a powerful statement on where women stand today, the good news and the bad: from US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to a series on victims of domestic violence.

In the introduction, Susan Sontag calls the book "an anthology of destinies and disabilities and new possibilities.... [This book] belongs to the ongoing story of how women are presented, and how they are invited to think of themselves." Taken specifically for the book, the portraits can be bold and unblinking, stark, depressing, inspiring, crude, shocking, powerful, beautiful.

My favorites include a hauntingly moving mother-daughter shot of Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow; an in-your-face tough photo of sisters and tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams; Oprah Winfrey caught on set in a pensive, melancholy moment; a beautiful shot of Hillary Rodham Clinton on the White House balcony; dignified washerwoman and philanthropist Osceola McCarty; and a series on Las Vegas showgirls in costume, covered in makeup, wearing ridiculously huge headdresses of feathers but hardly any clothing, contrasted with their off-stage, everyday look.

*Melanie Stetson Freeman is a Monitor staff photographer.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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