It’s amazing what some people will do for attention. Or in this case, what some magazines will do. French Vogue is known for its daring, cutting-edge spreads, and often starts trends that are frantically duplicated. As such they have a responsibility to balance the daringness with responsibility, which is exactly what they didn’t do for their latest shoot. American photographer Steven Klein did a series with Dutch model Lara Stone in blackface. Actually not just blackface – because it’s Vogue, Stone’s obviously got to be showing a lot more skin than just her face. So the makeup artist painted her entire body black. Then for some shots, she painted over the black makeup with pure white makeup.
Seeking ever edgier territory, having dispensed with motherhood and cannibalism as sources of controversy, Vogue Paris took pictures of Dutch supermodel Lara Stone in blackface. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before!
In the October issue of the magazine is a 14-page editorial featuring the Dutch beauty. Shot by Steven Klein and styled by editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld, the piece starts off by praising Stone’s “sensual” body, her “uninhibited gappy teeth” and the “radical break with the wave of anorexic models” that she supposedly represents. Too bad they changed everything they claim to love about her for the shoot.
What Klein and Roitfeld should know — as the producers of the Australian program Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday also should have known — is that painting white people black for the entertainment of other white people is offensive in ways that stand entirely apart from cultural context. France and Australia may not have the United States’ particular history of minstrel shows as a form of popular entertainment going back to the 19th century, but something about the act of portraying a white woman as black ought to sound an alarm, somewhere.
The fact that the issue, dedicated to “Supermodels,” contains no black models, should also have been noticed, and corrected.
Given Klein is American, it would be nearly impossible to even argue that the magazine didn’t know what buttons it was pushing. It’s kind of sickening to think that minstrelsy has become just another “reference” for po-mo fashion editorials to “appropriate” to show how “edgy” they are, “conceptually.”
After painting Stone’s body brown, the makeup artist then apparently painted parts of her white again. Inexplicably, the editorial moves from the studio to a location. The token Lady Gaga picture at least clears up one troubling question: why it is that Stone spends the editorial wearing only a black thong on her lower half. I looked at this editorial, and I just thought, pathetic, pathetic, pathetic. When I got to this shot, I thought lame. Since when does Carine Roitfeld seem so out-of-date?
Jezebel does a great job of summing up the issue with blackface when they note,
“…painting white people black for the entertainment of other white people is offensive in ways that stand entirely apart from cultural context.” And the photographer being American means there’s absolutely no way they could argue they weren’t aware of the implications of what they were doing. It’s ignorant and offensive. I’m all for edgy, but as I said above, it needs to be balance with some basic level of responsibility.
Last week we talked about the “Hey Hey Hey” blackface controversy with Harry Connick Jr. I’m surprised that there’s another one so quickly. Blackface is such an obvious – and rightful – taboo that the issue doesn’t come up all that often. The Vogue shoot was obviously completed before the “Hey Hey Hey” scandal – and that’s all the more reason to pull it. It never should have been done in the first place, but to think that it got past all these editors and is now actually out in print? It’s mind-boggling.
Scans thanks to Laetitia at The Fashion Spot.