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The Big Picture
A famed photographer shows us the whole of the female half

At Jim Walter No. 5 Mine in Brookwood, Ala., these five women work in the deepest shaft in North America. From left, they are: Shirley Hyche, a former motel housekeeper and nurse's aide who became a miner to put her four daughters through college; Jean McCrary, whose father and two brothers also became miners; Johnnie Simon, a former court clerk who started college after getting a job in the mines; Nell Cooley, who runs the machine that cuts coal; and Linda Hosmer, a drill operator who has also worked as a hairdresser and horse trainer.

ANNIE LEIBOVITZ landed her first assignment for Rolling Stone magazine in 1970 when she was sent to photograph the trippy Jefferson Airplane lead singer Grace Slick.

Trini Campbell and daughter Cassidy Campbell Mueller live on Riverdog Farm in Guinda, Calif., where Trini and husband Tim Mueller grow organic vegetables on 50 acres. They are part of a community-supported agriculture program in which they supply fresh produce to subscribers.

Since then, Leibovitz has turned into a celebrity herself, documenting iconic moments and famous personalities of our time. It was Leibovitz who happened to be hanging around with John Lennon and Yoko Ono at their New York apartment on Dec. 8, 1980. And it was she who caught the tender moment when the naked, absolutely vulnerable-looking musician wrapped himself like a blissful child around his fully clothed wife. Just a few hours later, outside that same building, Lennon was shot dead.

In a recent project, Leibovitz turned her lens to the women of America — not just the celebrities this time, although she includes a fair share of famous faces. For her exhibition "Annie Leibovitz: Women," which opened at Seattle Art Museum Sept. 20, Leibovitz chose to document the wild variety in career choices and physical appearance of our population's female half. The show, accompanied by a book of the same name, began its tour in 1999 at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Marilyn Heit Leibovitz, the photographer's mother, grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. After marrying Samuel Leibovitz in 1942, she taught elementary school and dance and had six children as he pursued a career in the Air Force. Transfers sent the family throughout the country and to The Philippines; Mom and Dad finally landed in Silver Spring, Md.

Leibovitz's big, strong pictures do just what they are supposed to do: grab your attention and draw you in. I like the unexpected portraits: the sculptor Louise Bourgeois looking like some ancient sorceress; Las Vegas showgirls in their glitzy stage personas juxtaposed with their softer, real-world incarnations as moms and human beings. And who wouldn't love the plainspoken nobility of the late Osceola McCarty, a woman who labored for 75 years as a laundress and saved enough to donate a $150,000 scholarship fund to the University of Southern Mississippi. She did it to help other African-American women get an education. Leibovitz knew what she was after when she photographed Osceola — and she got it. "When you trust your point of view," she says, "that's when you start taking pictures."

Baseball pitcher Ila Borders started playing girls' softball in her hometown of Downey, Calif., but by age 10 she was playing in boys' Little League. She received the first college baseball scholarship awarded to a woman, and in 1998, as a starter for the Duluth-Superior Dukes, became the first woman to pitch an entire season on a men's professional team. Eileen Collins, the first woman to pilot a space shuttle, is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. In July 1999, she commanded the five-day mission of the shuttle Columbia. She is shown here at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

See the Exhibit

"Annie Leibovitz: Women" runs through Jan. 6 at the Seattle Art Museum, 100 University St., Seattle. Call 206-654-3100 or check for information. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, except Thursday, when the museum stays open until 9 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for students and seniors; free to museum members. On the first Thursday of each month, prices are $3 for adults, $2 for seniors and students.

Sheila Farr is the Seattle Times' art critic. "Women" the book of photographs by Annie Leibovitz, with an essay and photo captions by Susan Sontag, is published by House; $45.

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