Black Photographer to Shoot Vogue Cover for the First Time in Its 126-Year History Thanks to Beyonce

Black Photographer to Shoot Vogue Cover for the First Time in Its 126-Year History Thanks to Beyonce

Just when you think we’re making huge progress towards equality, a stark reminder of how far we’ve yet to go emerges. Despite 126 years of publication at a rate of 12 issues per year, not one Vogue cover has been shot by a black photographer. If the rumors are true, Beyonce could be about to change that.

It’s quite remarkable to hear that such a modern, fashion-forward publication that prides itself on being one step ahead is, in fact, light years behind. While creatives should always be selected on merit rather than the mere principle of a magazine needing to appear diverse, I find it difficult to grasp quite how, in over 1,000 issues, not one cover has been the work of an African-American photographer.

Perhaps even more staggering is the claim that the only reason this statistic is changing in 2018 can’t be attributed to the editorial staff at Conde Nast. According to the Guardian, the rumored photographer to be shooting the prestigious September issue’s cover is Tyler Mitchell, a black photographer hand-picked by Beyonce Knowles, who is due to grace said cover. A long-time advocate for black talent, Knowles allegedly only agreed to participate in the feature were she given full creative control, including the creative team working on it.

https://twitter.com/Toure/status/1024028941055655938

Editor Anna Wintour is notoriously controlling, opting to keep most productions within a small circle of creatives. The photographers she usually allocates cover shoots to are considerably more established than Mitchell. It’s a huge gig for him, but one that must feel bittersweet. Regardless of your opinion of the magazine itself, to shoot for Vogue is a great honor, although doing so knowing the powers behind it seem to have a disregard for people of color must surely taint the experience. That Wintour is signing over all creative control to Beyonce is unusual, but then again, maybe she doesn’t care, since she’s rumored to be leaving the publication.

While Mitchell’s cover will undoubtedly be something to celebrate upon its reveal, there are still many questions that need to be answered. Why has it taken so long for a black photographer to be given this opportunity? Why did it require someone of Beyonce’s prestige for this to happen? And most importantly, will this be the wake-up call that Vogue so desperately needs?

Shame on you, Conde Nast.

Lead image credit: Kristopher Harris via Flickr Creative Commons.

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35 Comments

Johnny Rico's picture

"Editor Anna Wintour is notoriously controlling, opting to keep most productions within a small circle of creatives. The photographers she usually allocates cover shoots to are considerably more established than Mitchell."

I mean that's how it works, you get accounts, you keep accounts unless major things happen, budgets, etc. Hiring somebody solely based on race seems discriminatory.

Jack Alexander's picture

I agree, and addressed that in the piece:

"While creatives should always be selected on merit rather than the mere principle of a magazine needing to appear diverse, I find it difficult to grasp quite how, in over 1,000 issues, not one cover has been the work of an African-American photographer."

Deleted Account's picture

Yes, but your disclaimer, which is already half-hearted, is weakened by your opening sentence. In fact, Johnny's explanation makes a lot more sense than racism, given the magazine we're talking about.

It’s easy to grasp why no African American has shot the cover... The cover is always shot by a photographer who has the respect and trust of the editor. And sadly, no editor of Vogue has apparently respected or trusted any African American to do this job. It speaks more to the elitism and bubble that the Vogue editors live in than any sort of commentary on the state of opportunities for black photographers.

Alex Cooke's picture

They don't respect or trust black photographers, but it's not about racism? What am I missing?

Johnny Rico's picture

So to verify, you just called Anna Wintour racist?

Alex Cooke's picture

Nope, not sure where you got me making a direct statement out of a comment consisting of only a question. I questioned what I was missing when he said "no editor of Vogue has apparently respected or trusted any African American to do this job" but then in the next sentence dismissed the possibility of that being due to them being black, as I don't follow the logic in that argument. I gave no opinion or statement of my own and asked purely for clarification of Ted's statement, which I'd prefer Ted be the one to give. Not sure why you find a request for clarification to better understand the discussion so offensive as to put words in my mouth and downvote the request.

Johnny Rico's picture

I believe the "What am I missing?" add on at the end insinuates the he is incorrect about it not being about racism. Which in turn makes it come across as due to racism. Maybe if you would have thrown it in quotes, but I was reading your first line as your spoken words. Also I have no idea whom Anna Wintour is

Alex Cooke's picture

I actually added it so as not to sound like I was insinuating anything, as I felt it sounded like I was just patronizing him if I said his own words back to him with a question mark. I didn't add quotes because I paraphrased him. It was simply a request to help me understand what he was saying.

Johnny Rico's picture

It's just that everybody calls people Hitler and racist these days on the internet. I'm glad you weren't calling her racist.

Anonymous's picture

Both of you: quit being civil and explaining your positions so well. This is the internet, enough with the boring respect and decorum.

Johnny Rico's picture

"While creatives should always be selected on merit ..."

That is not how it works in the real world though. Some pretty sub par photographers out there staying quite busy. Art directors go with their favorites, who they know, what works. It's all about contacts. As long as you don't screw up and there aren't any budget issues, things don't get changed up often. People get fired, move agencies, plug their own go to people, rinse and repeat, and there they usually last.

Sean Gibson's picture

Totally agree. Why isn't advocating for simply a minority photographer. Something tells me she's not considering other photographers she's worked with that are a minority other than African American. Hope he does a good job just the same. As long as she doesn't give us another horrible pregnancy photo that I can't unsee.

Tony Clark's picture

Congratulations to Tyler for earning the respect of Beyoncé and getting booked for the cover. How is it that Matthew Jordan Smith hasn’t shot for them? His beauty work is amazing and has been for a long time.

Kirk Darling's picture

Smith as well as a whole lot of black photographers who have been working for decades for Essence, Ebony, et cetera. And a lot of them are black women.

Michael Comeau's picture

There's another angle people are ignoring: Vogue doesn't use many photographers, period. It's not like they've been hiring a different photographer for every issue.

The vast majority of Vogue covers have been shot by a very small number of photographers like Avedon, Penn, Leibovitz, Testino, Meisel, Demarchelier, etc.

This means that naturally, all kinds of groups will be excluded. It's not just hard for black photographers to break in. It's hard for ANY photographer to break in.

For example, one thing everyone is ignoring about Tyler Mitchell: he will probably also be the youngest photographer to ever shoot a Vogue cover.

Jon Dize's picture

Hiring someone because they are black is as racist as not hiring someone because they are black.

As I said during the Obama campaign, "If you voted for Obama, because he was black... You are a racist! If you voted against Obama, because he was black... You are a racist!"

There are many reasons including those pointed out by Michael Comeau and Johnny Rico that would lead to 1,000 covers being shot by someone other than a black photographer.

Did anyone mention if there were any Hindi Photographers shooting covers for Vogue?

Any Asian photographers shooting covers for Vogue?

Any women photographers shooting covers for Vogue?

Did any black photographers in the past solicit cover work or any photography work at all from Vogue?

If so, did Vogue refuse them, because they were black? THAT would be racist.

If Vogue refused them, because their work or their vision was not what Vogue's market demands, then that has nothing to do with race.

You know how to spot the racist in the room?

They are the ones who make everything about race.

Hiring a photographer, based on their race is BLATANTLY RACIST!

Kolade Agunbiade's picture

Still waiting for someone to turn down this kind of offer.

Deleted Account's picture

So what

Tomash Masojc's picture

Where can we see cover and shots?

Jack Alexander's picture

Hasn't been released (possibly not even shot) yet. I'll be posting about it when it's out!

Like most business people, Wintour probably isn't thinking, "oh, I need a black, brown or yellow person this month to take pictures or do fill in the blank." She's simply thinking I need to sell a lot of magazines this month. In other words, she's not thinking about color. In 21st century America a business person not thinking about the color of a person's skin is considered either free of racism and a good person or is considered infected by a blind and insidious racism and needs immediate help in overcoming their sorry state of affairs.

Another article praising celebrity

Jonathan Reid's picture

Isn’t Vogue an Italian magazine? If so, it’s not that surprising that an African American has never shot the cover. Has a black photographer from any other county shot the cover?

Gregory Mason's picture

When I read the piece, I was surprised because I would have thought photographers of the standing of Gordon Parks or Matthew Jordan Smith would have shot one before now. I do have to ask why there is so much publicity surrounding Beyonce being editor as Septembers Vogue issue is the most important one of the year and I cannot see Ms Wintour being in control of the published magazine.

I thought the same, but now that I look at their work overall. Their styles really aren't"Vogue" and to be honest I think they are better off. They never needed a fashion rag to start their legacies and they certainly don't need them now.

Okay, here's the thing. An editor of a magazine or art director of an agency works with vendors that meet their budgets and quality expectations. Once they find their people, they stay with them till they quit or till the vendor messes up or makes them look bad.

If for some reason her roster of talent does not include any ethnic creatives, that does not mean she is racist or that vogue is racist.

This isn't about race and certainly not about who you know. Granted, it may get you an opportunity to prove yourself. But if you SUCK, that's the last project you will do for them.

This is going to be an epic opportunity. One normally not given to a young unknown. But if he brings it, (which I am sure he will) this will certainly change his life.

If anything, I worry about him working for Beyonce, She isn't known to be the nicest person to work for.

"Despite 126 years of publication at a rate of 12 issues per year, not one Vogue cover has been shot by a black photographer. If the rumors are true...."

If the rumors are true? So there's no concrete facts backing this? Am I missing something here? Is this article predicated on rumors? If so this whole article is waste of time. I come here for tips and advice and ways to break into the industry. As a "Hispanic photographer" I really don't visit this site to get advice or updates on social issues. I come here to learn a craft not for social activism.

If the rumors about Beyoncé demanding & getting Mitchell.

“…the rumored photographer to be shooting the prestigious September issue’s cover is Tyler Mitchell, a black photographer hand-picked by Beyonce Knowles….”

The part about never being shot by a Black photographer is fact. The part about Mitchel & Beyoncé is rumor.

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