September has arrived which means its back to school for the kids, the cooling off of summer temperatures and lastly but not least Beyonces Knowles-Carters Birthday.
This month marks an important time in the Media Fashion industry and Vogue sets pace this month with Queen Bee gracing its cover. This issue includes some personal mini essays from our favourite girl and is the first cover ever to be shot by an African American photographer. Beyonce was given full editorial control over the issue and selected twenty- three year old photographer Tyler Mitchell for the job.
Some of you must be wondering; why has it taken Vogue 125 years to hire a black person for the role of creating its cover photo? Well, I don’t like to point the finger, but it looks like current chief Editor Anna Wintour has a lot to answer for!
Fashion legend and first black male creative director for Vogue Andre Leon Talley the subject of a 2017 documentary called “The Gospel According to Andre” gave his take on pushing diversity when he worked for the magazine saying “I never pushed for anything. I never pushed anything. I didn’t- Vogue is not a place where you are pushy”. You’re not a bully – I don’t go in there – I never pushed for anything. I nuanced my points of view, safely realizing that I had to navigate a world that was basically a dominant white world of power. You don’t go in there pushing and saying, you know, ‘We gotta have a black cover.’ The covers are chosen when they are chosen for many, many reasons, for commercial reasons as well as perhaps demographics. I never was part of that. That was not my job. I was not in those meetings. That was not my responsibility. So, when the covers are shot, you know, not everyone is brought in to be a participant in the cover decision. That goes between the editor in chief and the art director, and the photographer, and the fashion director which is doing that cover at the time. So you don’t even know what is going to be on the cover until you see it is about to go to print. No one decides that but the editor in chief.”
One of the 20th centuries most influential photographers Gordon Parks shot photographs for Vogue during the late 1940’s right into the 60’s but was never given the privilege of shooting the cover.
In his memoirs he describes how coveted the cover images were saying “it was an acknowledgment of your status and success as a photographer, being able to out-compete everybody else and get the most coveted placement in the magazine. So magazines occupy different places in the culture and Vogue is sort of the magazine that can anoint popular culture royalty. And so for a photographer to get the cover of Vogue, you know, it announces that photographers entrance into the highest ranks of the photographic profession, which among other things, opens further doors, and means more money for your fees and for African American photographers to be denied that right, to be denied entrance into the highest ranks, to be denied the ability to earn the income that comes with it, to be denied the cachet, the cultural cachet, that comes with having one of your images on the cover of the magazine, one of the few remaining iconic, truly iconic magazines, well, that is really infuriating.
With this Septembers issue, Vogue is now attempting to rectify its discriminative past along with other well-known publications such as the National Geographic who has admitted that in the past it has often pigeonholed non-whites as simply exotic extras, labour or savages. NG produced a special issue on race this year and asked John Edward Mason a specialist in the history of photography and the history of Africa at Virginia University to be a guest editor. When asked about the attempts of such publications trying to rectify their past behavior by using a black photographer to shoot the cover he answered, “It didn’t surprise National Geographic what I told them. There has been a lot of very good writing on the way that National Geographic has represented people from Asia, and Africa, and Latin America. It was a very colonial vision and a very racist vision. And you know, the magazine knew what I was going to tell them, but I think it was important for them to hear it from an outsider. And I appreciated the lack of defensiveness at National Geographic. My work was all in connection with their issue on race, and in that issue, both the people who wrote the articles and the photographers represented a very, very racially, ethnically and gender-ly [laughter] diversity of photographers . . . and I think the challenge is for National Geographic to continue that diversity, right? To hire black photographers to shoot things other than stories about black people, right?”
The likes of Tally and Parks are have undoubtedly made groundbreaking moves in the photography fashion and media world, but it would be unfair to put all the pressure on the ‘firsts’ to single-handily change an industry set up for and riddled with white supremacy. However, step by step the fight for equality and equal opportunity continues and so we must strive to help those who did it first so that one day diversity is spread across these powerful publications thickly and consistently and so becomes a normal part of world culture