Two Magazine Covers, Two Signs of Our Time

Photography and fashion go hand by hand. Without photography, creators and designers wouldn’t have a way to showcase their work. Thanks to magazines and catalogs, the fashion industry has been able to reach millions of potential customers.

Little girls cut out the silhouettes of gorgeous models in even more gorgeous clothes and they dream about the runaway. All of this, thanks to the pictures that depict an idyllic world. Until it is not so dreamy. 

Just ask Vogue. The magazine’s August cover portrays the young, talented and successful artistic gymnast Simone Biles. Considering the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, a wise choice. Vogue was making a statement. Right? Wrong. The cover backfired. Viewers and readers were critical for two main reasons. 

Picture courtesy of Vogue

First Annie Leibowitz, photographer who portrayed Simone Biles, wasn’t a Black photographer. Second, in the pictures, the gymnast looks white-washed and the bad lighting isn’t truthful to her beauty. A Black photographer would have known how to value and depict Bile’s skin tone, critics claim. 

Readers love Biles, not so much the pictures. In one image, Biles stands in front of a golden background and she looks muted, which seemed like a shame to many people, especially since Biles had important things to say.

“We need change,” Biles said to Vogue. “We need justice for the Black community. With the peaceful protests it’s the start of change, but it’s sad that it took all of this for people to listen,” she said. “Racism and injustice have existed for years with the Black community.”

On the other hand, photographer Dario Calmese had a precise idea on how to shoot actress Viola Davis for the July/August cover of Vanity Fair. Calmese told the Guardian that he and his lighting team were aware of how to light Davis properly. 

In the cover, the photographer referenced the photo of “Whipped Peter.” The image depicts Peter, a slave in American plantations, with his bare back full of scars from the whippings he had received. Calmese referenced the excruciating picture to start an important conversation. And he was unapologetic.

“I want to repopulate the landscape of black imagery and understanding that’s been told to us, by someone else,” the photographer told the Guardian, “my shoot with Viola is a love letter to black women in particular.”

Picture courtesy of Vanity Fair

Vogue and Vanity Fair are two fashion monoliths. They can set and destroy trends, they can tell us what to wear and when. They know what is glamorous and worthy or at least, they want us to believe they do. But do they know what is relevant and important? It depends on what cover you grab from the newstand.

If you want to learn more about the relationship between BLM and fashion, check out our article.

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