On Monday afternoon, Vogue confirmed weeklong rumours that Beyoncé was set to star on its much-anticipated annual September cover. Even more exciting than the prospect of Bey gracing us with another goddess-like shoot, was the context and genesis of its production; for the first time in its 126 year history, Vogue had tapped an African-American photographer to shoot the cover. When the issue finally dropped yesterday and with a Beyoncé cover story lensed by 23 year old Tyler Mitchell, it did not disappoint. The choice to a hire a young black photographer whose work is often contextually and aesthetically divergent from the typical glossy portrait photographers of bygone Vogue imagemakers is significant - what does this historic pivot mean for the future of the magazine, and for fashion media en masse?
Fashion's #metoo moment is opening up doors
Strangely, this moment for Tyler Mitchell might not have come - at least not so soon - if it weren't for the #metoo revelations and allegations of sexual misconduct against Vogue's usual slew of contributors. Photographers Bruce Weber, Mario Testino, and Patrick Demarchelier - who have shot most of the magazine's covers over the last decade - were all implicated in exposés by The New York Times and The Boston Globe and subsequently suspended from further contracts with Vogue as of late-2017. The gap they have left has been filled by other fairly establishment imagemakers, including Mert & Marcus and Inez & Vinoodh. In August, Jamie Hawkesworth lensed the issue starring Saorise Ronan, signalling a possible step into more adventurous territory, which we've now seen realised with Mitchell's cover. The magazine appears to be using its #metoo reckoning as a moment to swap boring photos shot by creepy old white men for something far more compelling and inclusive.
Is Vogue willing to take risks again?
Remember Anna Wintour's first cover as Editor in Chief of Vogue, back in 1988? It was considered radical at the time - model Michaela Beru wearing (gasp) jeans and natural, messy hair, laughing and posing in a very un-produced, relaxed cover image. This signalled the magazine's repositioning as something far more modern and cosmopolitan, but in recent years, we can all agree that it has gotten stale - especially the cover. Mitchell's cover story looks nothing like any we've seen in the last handful of years, and that is decidedly refreshing.
It's about damn time
Much has been made of the fact that after 126 years in circulation, Vogue has hired their first African-American photographer to shoot the cover story. While it is certainly something to celebrate, it's also something to be critical of. It has been 126 years. It is 2018. What took so long? Why are we patting Vogue on the back for doing something that a) other magazines have been doing for years and b) that they should have been doing ages ago? Likewise, rumours prior to the cover reveal suggested that Mitchell was Beyoncé's personal choice (Wintour denied this in an interview with BoF) which is also telling - why does it take Beyoncé to get more people of colour artists hired? These are positions that should be open to skilled photographers of all identities; as we see more inclusion and diversity in casting and in front of the camera, there continues to be a dirth of it behind the scenes, meaning that the top-down decisions are still coming from the same sources that they always have.
Writing for The Guardian, 19 year old photographer David Uzochukwu explained the significance of Bey sticking her neck out for P.O.C. creatives. "I know for sure that having that support is a super-important aspect if you are not white. Things would have been so different if I didn’t have that sort of community willing to use me. And so for me, when I’m on set, I know it’s important to do the same – to include women and people of colour, to make sure it’s inclusive. We have to work like that, together."
Who run the world?
I mean.... Beyoncé is a genius right? Her accompanying cover story - in her own words, not an interview, obviously - is honest and hypnotising-ly poetic. We love that this issue happened and who it involved, and hope that thanks to a combination of different societal forces, it cues a change in the mindset of the fashion industry establishment going forwards.