As the 2018 Fall fashion season approaches, the major players of the fashion industry are on their mark. Designers, models, stylists, fashionistas, writers, magazines and photographers are getting ready and set to go full steam ahead, with collaboration and presentations of the trendsetting styles and style that will forever be en vogue. On the topic of trending and vogue, word on these internet streets is Beyoncé has been slated HBIC of Vogue Magazine’s September issue courtesy of Anna Wintour, the publication’s Editor-In-Chief. In the kindest way of paying it blackward, Queen Bey tapped 23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell to shoot the cover for the renowned issue. By doing so, millions discovered Mitchell, a black man, would be the first black photographer to have this white honor in the 126-year history of the prestigious magazine. Real talk.
In the whitest world of privilege, this news is not shocking. Many of us who occupy society’s margin are not even surprised. However, that Vogue hasn’t employed a black photographer for its cover — ever — is questionable. Wintour has yet to speak on the situation, but everyone else is, including Trevor Noah.
Beyoncé’s taking creative control of Vogue’s September issue and hired the first black photographer to shoot its cover: https://t.co/VhknDjn6Vu pic.twitter.com/NwuqYHLkWC— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) August 1, 2018
The audacity of not employing one black photographer in one century is both intentional and insidious. How could it not be? Photography, like any other industry, is brimming with black excellence. Plus, there are black photographers who go down in American history dating back to 1840.
Yeah — as in 178 years ago.
For a conglomerate like Vogue magazine to bypass black photographers, overlook their contributions and refuse them an opportunity to shoot their shot qualifies as erasure; and is racist in the most subtle of ways. That it took a boss black woman to check and correct their slight is the ultimate example of black power. That black photography is alive and well and cemented in history without having to align itself with whiteness speaks to the power of black endurance and resistance. Since Vogue missed out on 126 years of visual dopeness, I did decided to bring them up to speed on 14 incredible black photographers who have blessed us with optical brilliance over the last 14 decades. Ms. Wintour, take note.
Jules Lions, the first documented black photographer, was a free man from New Orleans, Louisiana, who experimented with daguerreotype one year after its invention. His subjects varied from area landscape and people about the city.
Arthur Bedou, also from New Orleans was an award-winning photographer and the visual documentarian of the life and times of Booker T. Washington. Bedou was “Official Photographer” for Tuskegee Institute, and his work published editorially.
Florestine Perrault Collins, another NOLA native, grew up in a Creole family, could pass for white and used this to her advantage and the benefit of blacks. Collins spent her entire career being of service to blacks seeking out photography and capturing African American life.
James Van Der Zee's pictorials of black life and the black literati of Harlem's Renaissance exemplified blackness stunting for the cam in early infancy. Van Der Zee was instrumental in the creation and capture of this historical era.
Hugh Bell, New York City’s own beloved photographer, carried the torch by documenting black Jazz artists of the 50’s and 60’s. Bell was also a commercial photographer who shot high-end fashion for black publications such as Ebony, Essence, and Esquire.
Gordon Parks was a critically acclaimed photographer who showed another side of Blackness. His depictions demonstrate resilience. His American Gothic series and photo essay, "The Restraints: Open and Hidden" show black families and individuals in their everyday lives, coping with adversity — poverty and racism — and he uses the nation's racial and social climate as the backdrop in both.
Parks did not compromise the dignity and pride of black folks. He used his position and power of perspective to deliver America to itself. He maintained integrity and exhibited the power of black survival while doing so. Not to mention, Parks was a staff photographer a Life Magazine and wait for it — Vogue.
Dawoud Bey can be considered the grandmaster of black photography in these contemporary times and has probably been a teacher to many black photographers who have walked in his footsteps. His work is collected widely across many institutions and museums; the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture being the most recent. Hailing from the Jamaica, Queens section of New York, Bey’s influence has been people from the streets, however, In 2007, Bey photographed then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Carrie Mae Weems is your favorite photographer's favorite photographer and she touched her first photography class under the direction of Dawoud Bey. Not only is Weems an award-winning woman photographer, she is a certified genius having won the 2013 MacArthur Fellow Award. Her critical work spans over 30 years. Shame on Vogue for not hiring Weems to do cover work after her amazing shoot with Mary J. Blige for W Magazine.
Jamel Shabazz breaths positivity into black images with his up close and personal photos of black youth, in and around New York City. Like black photographers before him, Shabazz humanized black identity, as mass media and government vilified it. Shabazz showcased the beautification of all things b-boy, brown and blinged out in bamboo earrings, rope chains, and four-finger rings. He saw thug love beyond Puma sneaks, Sheepskins and Sergio Tachini suits. He found youthful Blackness posted up on forty-deuce, in front of gated bodegas, chilling on brownstone stoops — Flying High over distressed mattresses. Shabazz restored humanity in blackness. He made visible a budding black culture which evolved into a billion-dollar industry.
Keith Major is a household name in black photography; especially when it comes to shooting fashion, celebrities and musicians for magazines. Major showcases blackness at its optical best. His images are sharp, sleek and clean. He made Kevin Hart look like a whole snack. That said, he can be trusted. If there is any photographer that could totally slay a Bey shoot, it is Major.
Alter Ego photo series took black photography by surprise. Blanks’ knack for photo fusion (aka photoshop) raised the bar on creative photography and had a slew of celebrities wanting to get in front of his camera.
Mikalene Thomas does not come to play when it comes to shooting the black woman form and her images far exceed what is depicted as high-fashion. Her photography is actually high art. The Yale graduate mixes loud color, noisy patterns and brown to communicate afro-futurism to viewers. Thomas’ work is above our heads and would knock any Vogue cover out the box.
Melissa Alexander is a hidden gem tucked away in Southwest Atlanta. Though an emerging photographer, her productions are works to reckoned with; and it is important to recognize a talent before it blooms. Looking into Alexander’s images are like watching a silent movie; they are narratively rich without words. Pairing minimal lighting with chocolate tones Alexander’s work pays homage to darkness and depth. As part of a recent series titled The Reclamation Project, the young budding photographer romanced the black female body with shots reminiscent of 1970’s black erotica. Her themes encompass black self-love and range from #blackgirlmagic to #blackboybeauty.
Terrell L. Clark, Meridian, Mississippi, photographer and documentarian, photo-documented the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday: the historical march over Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. In a epic photo, Clark's genius eye captured 104-year-old Amelia Boynton-Robinson's hand mid-air. Her spirit transitioned from earth days later.
Clark feels professional representation for black photographers seeking out work from top-tier publications like Vogue is hard to come by, although he is a highly sought shooter.
"We can produce the work,” Clark stated. “We need agents, people who want to represent us fully and put our work in front of those entities so they see and understand that our work is just as valuable and worthy as our white counterparts."
Clark confirms that systematic challenges still exist, but they do not stop him, nor make him feel powerless. He remains steadfast in shooting images that are most important to him — black people and black life.