For the first time in its 107-year-history, Vanity Fair magazine has featured the work of a Black photographer on its cover.
Dario Calmese, who has previously photographed the actors Billy Porter and George MacKay for the magazine, captured the the image of the Emmy-, Oscar- and Tony-award-winning actor Viola Davis for the July/August issue.
“This month brings its own milestone. To the best of our knowledge, it is the first Vanity Fair cover made by a Black photographer,” wrote Radhika Jones in her editor’s letter for the issue. “This is his first major magazine cover, and we celebrate him and honor his vision at this heightened moment in American history.”
Jones also mentioned that in Davis’s interview with the magazine, in which she says she feels her “entire life has been a protest”, she draws attention to the fact it is still rare for the magazine to feature Black cover stars.
“Our cover star this month is Viola Davis, and in the course of her conversation with Sonia Saraiya, she points to an incontrovertible fact about this magazine: ‘They’ve had a problem in the past with putting Black women on the covers,’” Jones wrote.
“For most of the magazine’s history, a Black artist, athlete, or politician appearing on a regular monthly issue of Vanity Fair was a rare occurrence. In our archives, excluding groups and special issues, we count 17 Black people on the cover of Vanity Fair in the 35 years between 1983 and 2017.”
For this cover, Calmese shot Davis in portrait in a blue Max Mara dress worn backwards. The image is based on The Scourged Back, a photo from 1863 of a man, Gordon, who escaped slavery but whose back was marked by repeated whippings.
“This image reclaims that narrative,” Calmese is quoted as saying, “transmuting the white gaze on black suffering into the black gaze of grace, elegance and beauty.”
However, his comments about the image in an interview with the New York Times – “I know this was a moment to be, like, extra black” – have drawn some criticism online for aligning Davis, as a darker-skinned woman, with a negative slave image.
Twitter user Zoé wrote: “‘Extra black’ is doing so much, again not in a good way … If we could collectively stop doing dark skinned black women so damn dirty, that would be great.”
It follows criticism of the August issue of Vogue, which, like Vanity Fair, is also published by Condé Nast, and features the Olympic athlete Simone Biles on the cover.
Social media users have said the image of Biles, dressed in a Bottega Veneta bodysuit and shot by Annie Leibovitz, was badly lit considering her skin tone.
Twitter user Nowlen Webb wrote: “This @simone_biles shoot was great but again, I’m disappointed at how many professional photographers don’t know how to treat dark skin.” He then posted edits of Leibovitz’s cover photo that he said he colour-corrected in “less than 10 minutes”.
Morrigan McCarthy, national picture editor at the New York Times, tweeted: “I adore Simone Biles and am thrilled she’s on the cover, but I hate these photos. I hate the toning, I hate how predictable they are and I super hate that Vogue couldn’t be bothered to hire a black photographer.”
Last month the supermodel Beverly Johnson criticised Condé Nast for its treatment of Black people at the organisation, after Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, apologised for not providing enough space to elevate “black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators”.
Johnson wrote “Wow – after three decades, fashion’s leading arbiter has finally acknowledged that there may be a problem!” and suggested the company make it mandatory that two black people are interviewed for influential editorial positions.
The Guardian has contacted Condé Nast and Calmese for comment.
RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment