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'Pilgrimage' sets the model for travel

Posted by David Lyon  June 29, 2012 04:56 PM

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AL with O'Keefe photos - small.jpg


The exhibition of photographs by Annie Leibovitz at the Concord Museum is simply called ''Pilgrimage.'' It's an apt title. It turns out that Leibovitz, perhaps the best known portrait photographer of our era, is a model for traveling with imagination and curiosity.

She took these environmental photographs as part of a several-year-long self-assignment to visit places that held a particular interest for her. By and large, they were spots associated with major artists, thinkers, and public figures – Elvis Presley's Graceland, Virginia Woolf's desk in the ''room of one's own with a lock on the door,'' and Ghost Ranch studio in New Mexico, where Georgia O'Keeffe and her landscapes became one.

The individual pilgrimages of the title may have been a checklist of what Leibovitz called ''crazy places,'' but they were ultimately only points of departure.

Once Leibovitz arrived, she followed strings of associations wherever they would lead her. Concord is a good case in point. She came to photograph the site of Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond. Finding a pile of rocks, she discovered more palpable Thoreau artifacts at the Concord Museum--where she became fascinated with Ralph Waldo Emerson's books. Being in Concord led her to Orchard House, where she became captivated by the Alcotts. ''Ultimately,'' she said during a recent press walk through the exhibition, ''I had to get out of Concord. You could do a whole book here!''

Leibovitz's joy in discovering and embracing the unexpected is a good lesson for all travelers, even those of us who will never capture the piquancy of O'Keeffe's box of homemade pastels in all the shades of her beloved desert. But studying the photos can teach us how to look more closely--even if not through a camera viewfinder--to identify the fleeting but wondrous experience that links us across time to the people who drew us to a place. Leibovitz, for example, was ''enamored'' of Emerson's wall of books. ''It fits so many minds in the town,'' she observed.

The exhibition of ''Pilgrimage'' is a collaboration between the Concord Museum (200 Lexington Rd., Concord, 978-369-9763, www.concordmuseum.org) and Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House (399 Lexington Rd., Concord, 978-369-4118, www.louisamayalcott,org). It is on view at the Concord Museum through September 23.

Photo by David Lyon for the Boston Globe

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