After the release of US Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles’ August Vogue issue, people are citing a lack of diversity on the creative side of the magazine as a result of subpar photographs in the spread.
The feature story highlighted Simone’s powerful truth and inspiring journey to becoming America’s most decorated gymnast, as well as the role model she has become for the next generation. The spread included the cover story and portraits shot by famous American photographer, Annie Leibovitz.
Once the issue launched, the Internet sparked immediate criticism for the way Simone’s photos were captured and edited and the lack of creativity in her clothes and poses.
One person on Twitter showed how he would have edited the cover shot, showing a before and after effect of color correcting.
A quick exercise in recoloring the #SimoneBiles Vogue cover. The left is the original; the right is my edit.
I love seeing the beautiful ways our skin captures light emphasized in photos. Accentuating the vibrancy of our hues also contributes to a powerful visual story. pic.twitter.com/4v09BS7G0y
— David Leon Morgan (@DavidLeonMorgan) July 11, 2020
And another did the same, saying,
This @Simone_Biles shoot was great but again, I’m disappointed at how many professional photographers don’t know how to treat dark skin. These edits took less than 10 mins to color correct. #VOGUE pic.twitter.com/qVr1mwQOCi
— Nowlen Webb (@NowlenWebb) July 10, 2020
While readers loved reading about Biles’ accomplishments and the powerful messages captured in the feature, they couldn’t help but notice how this was a missed opportunity for Vogue to use a Black photographer.
In 2018, Beyoncé’s September issue was Vogue’s first cover shot by a Black photographer, 23-year-old Tyler Mitchell, and it was actually Beyoncé herself who hired him for the shoot. He became Vogue’s first Black photographer to shoot a cover photo in their 125 year history. There hasn’t been another photographer to do a cover since.
— Vogue Magazine (@voguemagazine) August 6, 2018
And back in June, at the start of the Black Lives Matter protests, editor-in-chief Anna Wintour wrote an internal email to Vogue staff saying, “I want to say plainly that I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators.”
She went on to acknowledge the lack of diversity and thought saying, “We have made mistakes too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes.” She then promised her staff that the magazine will do better in hiring Black creatives going forward.
Let’s flashback to the “Vogue Challenge” that circulated the creative Internet sphere earlier this spring, which was a direct result of the lack of diversity at one of the world’s most prolific magazines.
The Vogue Challenge took off as a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement as people put together their own versions of what their cover photos would look like. It started with the intention for creatives in the Black community, but went viral as people world-wide tried their hand at the trend.
Vogue themselves even published a story on the topic and the lack of diversity in their own industry, saying, “the people depicted in fashion imagery tend to also reflect a narrow subset of the population. As the industry works towards changing for the better, a crowdsourced overview of new talent is cause for celebration. A scroll through the submissions proves that there is no shortage of willing and capable people, and artists must be fostered, supported, and granted the chance to enter the highest levels.”
People thought the widespread popularity of this challenge would incite Vogue’s use of more diverse photographers and editors.
A Twitter user acknowledged the trend and said,
Nonetheless, people are still really excited for Simone as this is her first Vogue cover, calling these photos of her “gorgeous” and representative of “strength, poise, and America.” But others are using this as a wake up call for Vogue going forward.
I love Simone Biles and am so proud of all of her accomplishments, but she deserved a Vogue cover long before now! And, she is so much more gorgeous than she’s portrayed. I definitely think they could have done much better. Step up @voguemagazine
— Blah_Blah_Blonde (@BlahBlah_Blonde) July 10, 2020
It also should be noted that back in March when Simone’s photoshoot was shot and her feature was written, America was in a much different place than it is now. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and the civil unrest we see today, this feature story may have taken a different angle than what has presently been written. Vogue journalist Abby Aguirre reached out to Simone since the initial interview, and the story has been updated in the wake of this new political climate in which Simone spoke of the outrage of the recent killings of Black people, the systemic racism in the United States, and the importance of taking a stand in this movement.
Make sure to read this article if you haven’t and be sure to help keep magazines accountable by pressuring them to add more diverse creatives to their teams. If we want to see a change in how people of color are reported on and represented in the media, then we must follow through with these platforms to keep their word with each edition.
Let us know what you think about this latest news regarding Vogue and Simone Biles, was she cheated from her Vogue moment or did the photos capture the essence of the story?