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Breaking News: Black Photographers Exist, Part 1

1:06 AM

Left: Simone Biles via Vogue/Annie Leibovitz, Right Viola Davis via Vanity Fair/Dario Calmese
Left: Simone Biles via Vogue/Annie Leibovitz, Right Viola Davis via Vanity Fair/Dario Calmese

Twitter/IG was in an uproar when Simone Biles graced the cover of the August 2020 issue of Vogue. This is a huge accomplishment for this renown African-American athlete to be featured in this legendary magazine. Even though this is a huge moment it was quickly shadowed by the criticism of the photographer, Annie Leibovitz. Leibovitz has been on Vogue's payroll as a photographer for years, however this controversy has exposed that she's not exactly fluent in making her dark skin subjects look beautiful. So the question aroused, why can't Vogue hire a Black Photographer that knows how to lit people with darker skin tones?

Prior to social media it was extremely hard for Black creatives especially Black photographers to get opportunities into these predominately White magazines. Tyler Mitchell became the first African-American photographer to shoot the cover of Vogue 2018 with Beyonce, in its 125 history. This opportunity came because allegedly she requested to have Tyler shoot the cover.  

Shortly after the Simone Biles cover, Vanity Fair release its July/August 2020 Cover featuring actress Viola Davis. However this time, the cover was shot by an African American photographer, Dario Calmese. This was another first of a Black photographer to shoot the Vanity Fair cover in its 107-year history.

Let's digest this for a moment...two magazines that has a century worth of published issues are still having its first in regards to collaborating with Black photographers. 
For the longest time people were requesting and arguing for more Black and POC faces on the covers of the magazines and models on the runway, however what go lost in this argument is those behind the scenes. For those that may not understand, this is an example of systemic racism and oppression.

In the aftermath of the George Floyd protests, companies and brands have been exposed for their performative ally-ship. In terms of the fashion industry for the past few years they have trotted BIPOC models in our faces via runways and campaigns, all the while the offices, staff and teams are majority White. 

I personally never applauded a brand for putting two models of POC on their runway/campaigns because I knew these brands use our bodies as trends. Black people are not trends and more importantly Black people have been around for centuries as well. What really needs to be investigated is how in a matter of 100 plus years we're still having a first time using a Black photographer. Here's an answer, the usual gatekeepers are keeping us out.

Art Critic/Writer, Antwaun Sargent also answered this same question in the article  "The New Black Vanguard’ heralds a change in fashion photography, and he said the following...

"I was like, ‘Well, you realize that you won’t get the job you want in criticism, so you have to invent your own.’ In some ways, that was part of the motivation of these young photographers. You talk to a lot of them, ‘I never thought I would do the cover of Vogue, or even shoot in Vogue,’ because there was this vise grip by basically old Life photographers, mostly male, Annie Leibovitz being the exception, who were contractually obligated to those platforms. And so when a lot of these guys go down with #MeToo — rightfully, might I add — it opens up space. It opens up opportunity for these mainstream magazines to bring in younger and new photographers.

The mainstream, because there’s a crisis, comes and calls them. It’s a course correction. Not because you’re kind of looking at your history, not because you ever thought that there were too many white voices in the room. You’re doing this because society, or the current culture has pushed you in this moment to do it. That just makes me highly distrustful of every institution."

Antwuan is right! The current culture is pushing those Black photographers and creatives who may never had a chance to be seen now. We're still reeling from the affect of the #MeToo movement and now we are now in civil unrest and this is bringing forth some awaken or a crisis clean up to throw Black photographers in the fold.

 I'm will always be excited to see BIPOC win and see their talents used with integrity. However I do wonder why in this uprising the decision to a use Black creator seems more opportunistic.  

What the #VogueChallenge has taught us that we are here, we've always been here. It shows the disparity of the Black talent that don't and will probably never get a chance to showcase their talent in a publication like Vogue. I'm pretty sure throughout the 100 and more years Black creatives has submitted resumes, pitches, portfolios for consideration and it mostly been ignored. As Anna Wintour admitted in a company-wide internal memo, "Vogue as not found enough ways to elevate and give space to black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators."

Stay tuned for part 2

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